Number of babies born hits 7-year low: Report

Number of deaths rises 4%, the highest in at least 20 years

In rapidly ageing Singapore, the figures are worrying.

Last year, the number of babies born fell to a seven-year low, while the number of deaths was the highest in at least two decades.

A total of 39,615 births were registered, 4 per cent fewer than the 41,251 in 2016. Last year's number was also the lowest since 2010, when 37,967 babies were born.

On the other hand, the number of deaths rose by 4 per cent from 20,017 in 2016 to 20,905 last year, the Report on Registration of Births and Deaths 2017 showed. The report was released by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority of Singapore on Wednesday.

The number of deaths has been on an upward trajectory since at least 1998, as the number of people aged 65 and older has more than doubled in that time frame, academics said. There were 15,657 deaths in 1998, the furthest back that the 2017 ICA report goes.

Couples may be less willing to reproduce if they are worried about the future.Sociologist Tan Ern Ser

The most common causes of death were cancer and heart and hypertensive diseases, which accounted for slightly more than half of all deaths last year. More than 80 per cent of those who died were aged 60 and over.

Sociologists said the 4 per cent decline in births is significant, given Singapore's falling total fertility rate, which stood at 1.16 last year - far lower than the 2.1 needed for the population to replace itself.

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser said fewer babies are being born as more Singaporeans are staying single or marrying later, trends that are unlikely to change.

Job uncertainty because of economic restructuring and cost of living may also factor into baby making plans, he said, noting: "Couples may be less willing to reproduce if they are worried about the future."

Of the babies born last year, 59 per cent were Chinese, 19 per cent Malay, 11 per cent Indian and 11 per cent were of other races.

Having fewer births and more deaths creates challenges for society, experts said.

Dr Tan Poh Lin, assistant professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said fewer babies born means a smaller work force, which affects the attractiveness of Singapore as a place to invest in.

This also means that there are fewer people of working age to support a growing pool of the elderly, which may increase the strain on families, among other woes.

But there are bright spots. For example, there are significantly fewer teenage mothers and there is a growing number of couples having larger families.

A total of 2,118 babies born last year had three or more other children in their families - the largest such number in the past five years. In 2013, the figure stood at 1,853.

Sociologists said these couples may have been influenced by their religious faith to have large families as they see children as a gift from God.

Others may have remarried, with children from past marriages and are adding to the family in their current marriage.