Category Archives: Population & Poverty

The destabalisation of marriage

The Disestablishment of Marriage –  | by STEPHANIE COONTZ on June 22, 2013

AT first glance, the prognosis for marriage looks grim. Between 1950 and 2011,according to calculations by the University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen, the marriage rate fell from 90 marriages a year per 1,000 unmarried women to just 31, a stunning 66 percent decline. If such a decline continued, there would be no women getting married by 2043!

But rumors of the death of marriage are greatly exaggerated. People are not giving up on marriage. They are simply waiting longer to tie the knot. Because the rate of marriage is calculated by the percentage of adult women (over 15) who get married each year, the marriage rate automatically falls as the average age of marriage goes up. In 1960, the majority of women were already married before they could legally have a glass of Champagne at their own wedding. A woman who was still unwed at 25 had some reason to fear that she would turn into what the Japanese call “Christmas cake,” left on the shelf.

Today the average age of first marriage is almost 27 for women and 29 for men, and the range of ages at first marriage is much more spread out. In 1960, Professor Cohen calculates, fewer than 8 percent of women and only 13 percent of men married for the first time at age 30 or older, compared with almost a third of all women and more than 40 percent of all men today. Most Americans still marry eventually, and they continue to hold marriage in high regard. Indeed, as a voluntary relationship between two individuals, marriage comes with higher expectations of fairness, fidelity and intimacy than ever.

But marriage is no longer the central institution that organizes people’s lives. Marriage is no longer the only place where people make major life transitions and decisions, enter into commitments or incur obligations. The rising age of marriage, combined with the increase in divorce and cohabitation since the 1960s, means that Americans spend a longer period of their adult lives outside marriage than ever before. Continue reading


Watch out for divide between old and young

July 28 2012, Phua Mei Pin, STraits Times

THE population question today pits the citizen against the foreigner. Yet the real showdown to come is not between those born in different countries, but those born in different eras.

Last week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned that a new fault line is forming in Singapore between new and old citizens. The tension is not only over different cultural norms, but that foreign workers and new citizens add to the competition in schools, workplaces, housing market and even for a bus seat.

As long as Singaporeans are focused on this fissure, they may not notice a serious crack forming within the citizen population itself: the divide between young and old.

It is a fault line that will widen and deepen in the very near future. Because it involves the citizen population, it will also be ripe for politicisation and has the potential to cause lasting tears in Singapore’s social fabric.

The basics of Singapore’s ageing population woes are well-rehearsed. As life expectancy lengthens and the birth rate lingers among the lowest in the world, its population looks set to shrink from 2025.

The likely outcome: fewer working adults will shoulder the responsibility of supporting more retired elderly, most obviously by paying higher taxes. Either state funding in some areas will have to be cut, or new sources of funding will have to be sought.

What sounds like the old story of not enough babies is actually the even older story of not enough resources, especially in the face of diverging and intensifying interests.

In this story, the old citizen will bare knuckles against the younger citizen over limited land and funds. Osteoporosis notwithstanding, the older citizen looks set to put up a fierce fight.

The retired elderly are more likely to plumb for taking the economy to a lower gear, arguing against investments and measures for long-term growth. As consumers rather than workers, they will have little interest in job opportunities or wage levels, but will oppose the inflation that comes with higher levels of growth. Continue reading

SPH Primer – Foreign Workers for economic growth?

Does Singapore need foreign workers and immigrants for economic growth?

THE short answer is yes.

This has been true for most of Singapore’s recent history because of its limited local population and a declining fertility rate.

Traditional economic growth theory explains that the more factors of labour and capital are added, the faster the economy expands. The efficiency of labour is determined by its productivity. The higher the productivity, the faster the growth. [Explanation by way of theory – observe the attribution to traditional growth theory rather than ‘From an economic perspective…] By adding foreign workers to the local labour force, Singapore’s economy can grow even faster than its potential might have allowed – likened by some to steroids that enhance performance.

Singapore has used levies and quotas to manage the foreign worker inflow, while making sure the economy did not overheat.For most of its history, this has worked, but in the last 10 years, the foreign workforce has increased much faster than anticipated.

The foreign labour force expanded from 605,000 in 2003 to 1.19 million people at the end of last year.

The Government has explained that it allowed more foreign workers to enter Singapore to ride on a strong wave of growth after its economy suffered a period of weak growth at the century’s start. 

In 2000, the bubble burst in the United States, and not too long after, the Sars crisis followed in 2003. The economy stabilised and grew after that.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong explained in 2006: ‘When the conditions are good and the sun is shining, we should go for it, as fast as we can, as much as we can.’

But there are drawbacks to using large numbers of foreign workers to drive growth. Continue reading

Hope springs a trap – lack of optimism locks people in poverty

The Economist, May 12, 2012

THE idea that an infusion of hope can make a big difference to the lives of wretchedly poor people sounds like something dreamed up by a well-meaning activist or a tub-thumping politician. Yet this was the central thrust of a lecture at Harvard University on May 3rd by Esther Duflo, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology known for her data-driven analysis of poverty. Ms Duflo argued that the effects of some anti-poverty programmes go beyond the direct impact of the resources they provide. These programmes also make it possible for the very poor to hope for more than mere survival.

She and her colleagues evaluated a programme in the Indian state of West Bengal, where Bandhan, an Indian microfinance institution, worked with people who lived in extreme penury. They were reckoned to be unable to handle the demands of repaying a loan. Instead, Bandhan gave each of them a small productive asset—a cow, a couple of goats or some chickens. It also provided a small stipend to reduce the temptation to eat or sell the asset immediately, as well as weekly training sessions to teach them how to tend to animals and manage their households. Bandhan hoped that there would be a small increase in income from selling the products of the farm animals provided, and that people would become more adept at managing their own finances.

The results were far more dramatic. Well after the financial help and hand-holding had stopped, the families of those who had been randomly chosen for the Bandhan programme were eating 15% more, earning 20% more each month and skipping fewer meals than people in a comparison group. They were also saving a lot. The effects were so large and persistent that they could not be attributed to the direct effects of the grants: people could not have sold enough milk, eggs or meat to explain the income gains. Nor were they simply selling the assets (although some did). Continue reading

The issue on Aging: Looming weight on shoulders of the young

By Phua Mei Pin

YEE Yan Wan is just three years old but policymakers here are already worrying about her future choices.

The concern arises because of Singapore’s shrinking old-age support ratio. That is the number of people aged 15 to 64 available to support each person 65 or older.

If Singaporeans do not start having more babies, and even with a steady intake of 30,000 new immigrants each year, the ratio will plummet from 10.3:1 in 2010, to 3.9:1 by 2040.

That is the year Yan Wan turns 31 and enters her prime working years.

Strip away the foreigner quarter of the population, and that ratio shrivels to 2.7:1 by 2040.

To get a preview of what Singapore will be like then, look to Japan. It has fewer than three workers supporting each retiree. By 2025, that figure is expected to drop to two. As the workforce shrinks, Japan’s economic weight will follow suit.

Japan scholar Lam Peng Er says the Japanese government is caught between a rock and a hard place.

On the one hand, voters demand more medical benefits for the old and worry about the insolvency of the pension system. On the other hand, they are reluctant to pay more taxes to fund more social security.

Will Singapore be subject to these same pressures? What are its options in dealing with this shrinking base of working adults?

Assets or liabilities? Continue reading

What is it about Singapore?

The unofficial capital of Asia is the place to be to witness an exciting future unfolding


IT IS a cliche that the Pacific Ocean is displacing the Atlantic, China will replace America at the top of the world’s hierarchy of power, and the East will surpass the West. We do not believe any of that for a minute. The multipolar world we are entering will have no single winner, and the three-pillared West of the European Union, North America and Latin America remains a triangular zone of peace and the foundation of global stability.

But a world of continued Western power is not a world of Western dominance. Areas once considered the West’s eminent domain such as the Middle East and Africa are now looking East for investment and exports, and new models of growth, development and governance. It would not hurt for the West to do the same.

We can all start by looking at Singapore, to which we are relocating shortly.

For the past generation, Eastern talent has been educated in the West and stayed, rising to the top of professions from medicine to academia, and founding over 40 per cent of Silicon Valley start-ups. But Asia’s wave of economic growth, infrastructure spending, and improved governance have been luring back Chinese ‘sea turtles’ and non-resident Indians, among others, to shiny new corporate parks and research labs. You do not even have to be Asian: China is launching a new scheme to recruit the best and brightest talent from all races and nations on permanent visas – call it a ‘red card’.

Migration is about opportunity, not loyalty. Americans too have become economic migrants. Since 2008, tens of thousands of Americans have sought employment in fast-growing emerging markets, their CVs pouring into financial capitals such as Abu Dhabi, Shanghai and Singapore.

During a recent lecture to an Indian firm in Mumbai, we noticed that a third of the audience were young American MBAs. At the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing, hundreds of Americans and Europeans are enrolled in the English language master’s programme in international relations, where they get not only the professional training for global careers, but also Mandarin language classes and guaranteed summer internships in China as well. Continue reading

‘Unprepared for the modern world.’ Is this an accurate assessment of the youth in your society?

Essay outline post

Question Analysis and Context

‘unprepared for the modern world’ requires a consideration of the traits of the current world that are relevant for the question such as the competitive global environment which involves the threat of foreign talent, more companies going global and requiring workers to leave their comfort zone to work overseas; globalized world where countries (and Singapore) are more vulnerable to international events and trends; requirements of knowledge-based economies etc.

Unprepared – in what aspects would it be worth discussing? In terms of surviving in the working world? In terms of looking out and after oneself? In terms of resilience or adapatibility to change?  Continue reading

We will always have the poor with us?

The poor are just people without enough money. But a ‘culture of poverty’ gives the affluent a reason to blame them for it

Barbara Enrenreich, Guardian Comment Network, 15 Mar 2012

It’s been exactly 50 years since Americans, or at least the non-poor among them, “discovered” poverty, thanks to Michael Harrington’s engaging book The Other America. If this discovery now seems a little overstated, like Columbus’s “discovery” of America, it was because the poor, according to Harrington, were so “hidden” and “invisible” that it took a crusading leftwing journalist to ferret them out.

Harrington’s book jolted a nation that then prided itself on its classlessness and even fretted about the spirit-sapping effects of “too much affluence”. He estimated that one quarter of the population lived in poverty – inner-city blacks, Appalachian whites, farm workers, and elderly Americans among them. We could no longer boast, as President Nixon had done in his “kitchen debate” with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow just three years earlier, about the splendors of American capitalism.

At the same time that it delivered its gut punch, The Other America also offered a view of poverty that seemed designed to comfort the already comfortable. The poor were different from the rest of us, it argued, radically different, and not just in the sense that they were deprived, disadvantaged, poorly housed, or poorly fed. They felt different, too, thought differently, and pursued lifestyles characterized by shortsightedness and intemperance. As Harrington wrote:

“There is … a language of the poor, a psychology of the poor, a worldview of the poor. To be impoverished is to be an internal alien, to grow up in a culture that is radically different from the one that dominates the society.”

Harrington did such a good job of making the poor seem “other” that when I read his book in 1963, I did not recognize my own forbears and extended family in it. All right, some of them did lead disorderly lives by middle-class standards, involving drinking, brawling, and out-of-wedlock babies. But they were also hardworking and, in some cases, fiercely ambitious – qualities that Harrington seemed to reserve for the economically privileged. Continue reading

The world’s fertility implosion

Art by YEN YOK

By David Brooks, sourced from TODAYONLINE/NYT, 16 Mar 2012

When you look at pictures from the Arab Spring, you see these gigantic crowds of young men and it confirms the impression that the Muslim Middle East has a gigantic youth bulge – hundreds of millions of young people with little to do. But that view is becoming obsolete.

As Mr Nicholas Eberstadt and Mr Apoorva Shah of the American Enterprise Institute point out, over the past three decades, the Arab world has undergone a little-noticed demographic implosion. Arab adults are having much fewer kids.

Usually, high religious observance and low income go along with high birth rates. But, according to the United States Census Bureau, Iran now has a similar birth rate to New England – which is the least fertile region in the US.

The speed of the change is breathtaking. A woman in Oman today has 5.6 fewer babies than a woman in Oman 30 years ago. Morocco, Syria and Saudi Arabia have seen fertility-rate declines of nearly 60 per cent, and in Iran it’s more than 70 per cent.

These are among the fastest declines in recorded history.

The Iranian regime is aware of how the rapidly-ageing population and the lack of young people entering the workforce could lead to long-term decline. But there’s not much they have been able to do about it. Maybe Iranians are pessimistic about the future. Maybe Iranian parents just want smaller families.

THE GREY TSUNAMI Continue reading

MDG drinking water target being met is cause for celebration

By Sanjay Wijesekera, The Guardian, Tuesday 6 March 2012

This achievement shows that where there is a will, it is possible to truly transform the lives of hundreds of millions of people for the better. Now we must tackle sanitationMDG : Access to water  : A woman draws water from a water well

A woman draws water from a well in Gonate, in Ivory Coast. Photograph: Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images

More than 3,000 children die daily from diarrhoeal diseases, and 88% of these deaths are due to poor drinking water, lack of sanitation and poor hygiene. So the news from the World Health Organisation and Unicef joint monitoring programme that the world has met the drinking water target of the millennium development goals is very welcome.

Since 1990 over 2 billion more people in the world have received access to drinking water. And this progress has not been driven by just big middle-income countries – smaller, less well-endowed countries have also shown the way.

Even in sub-Saharan Africa, where progress towards achieving the target is off-track, 273 million additional people gained access to drinking water since 1990. So, we should raise our hats to the governments, organisations, communities and individuals who put great effort and resources into making this happen. They show that where there is a will, it is possible to truly transform the lives of hundreds of millions of people for the better.

However 783 million people still do not have access to drinking water, this most basic human right. That is more than one in 10 people in the world. It is perhaps particularly depressing when one considers who these people are, where they live, and the impact this has on their lives. In addition, the other part of the same millennium development goal target – relating to access to adequate sanitation – is still off track.

Nowhere are the inequities of this world clearer than in access to drinking water and basic sanitation. Unicef is convinced that focusing on the poorest and hardest to reach is the fairest and most cost-effective way to use the donations we receive. It is the only way we will achieve the vision of the Millennium Declaration, reinforced by the UN general assembly’s recent recognition of drinking water and sanitation as basic human rights.

The majority of people without access to drinking water – 479 million – live in countries that are not among the poorest. The country with the largest number of people without access to improved water – 119 million – is China, the world’s second largest economy, according to most estimates. The next highest number – 97 million – live in India, another burgeoning and vibrant economy, followed by 66 million people in Nigeria.

This still leaves another 304 million people in the so-called least developed countries (LDCs), which need significant assistance to confront this huge challenge.

But one of the most inspiring findings from this report is that several smaller and poorer countries have made significant contributions to global progress. This tells us that results can be truly transformational given the right conditions, the right kind of external assistance, and allocating resources to the right kinds of things.

Take Malawi, for instance, an LDC. Since 1995, this small country provided more than 7.2 million of its people – almost half its current population – with access to drinking water. Burkina Faso and the Gambia, also both LDCs, have achieved similar feats. This shows we need to redouble our efforts to ensure the poorest countries have the technical guidance and information necessary to set the right conditions for achieving results, and to allocate resources accordingly.

In April, Unicef and the World Bank are convening a meeting of finance ministers from developing countries and ministers of development co-operation from donor countries on behalf of the Sanitation and Water for All partnership to prioritise drinking water and sanitation. This is a huge opportunity for many more countries to move from stagnation or incremental progress to transformational change in less than a generation. It can be done.

Three thousand children dying each day is 3,000 too many. No child should be excluded from global progress.