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Singapore has been widely regarded as a success story in terms of its economic development. It is one of the newly industrialized countries (NICs) that are collectively referred to as the "Asian miracle economies" (World Bank 1993).(2) In recent years Singapore has been actively promoting its approach to development as a model, particularly for other Asian countries, because of its high growth rates and stable society. Singaporean officials contend that their approach to development is dramatically different from Western approaches because of their traditional value systems that emphasize hard work and a high regard for the family.
What is less recognized, however, is that women have been a critical component of Singapore's growth in two ways and that changes in family policies have affected their economic roles.(3) Women have become a larger proportion of the labor force and are the reproducers of the next generation of workers, both essential in this labor short economy. This paper examines the impact on women (and their labor force roles) of changes in family policies since the 1960s. It focuses on fertility policies and the accompanying sets of policy packages designed either to decrease fertility (antinatalist policies) or increase fertility (pronatalist).
The paper points out that family and fertility policies were carefully tailored to facilitate economic development. It shows that both antinatalist and pronatalist policies involved unexpected contradictions that can undermine economic growth. Fertility policies in Singapore were even dramatically reversed in order to avoid constraints on competitiveness. The object of these changes in family policies was to maintain economic growth rates rather than to enhance the family lives of Singaporeans. In fact, such changes in family policies in the 1980s, coupled with an increased emphasis on promoting women's labor force activity, placed additional burdens on women. The rhetoric regarding the importance of family values differed from the reality. These often overlooked dimensions of the Singaporean model should be fully understood by countries considering it as a model to emulate.
To elaborate, since its adoption of an export-led development strategy just after achieving independence, Singapore has achieved high rates of growth of gross domestic product (GDP) that averaged 8.3 percent from 1965 to 1980 and 6.1 percent from 1980 to 1993. As of 1993 it had real per capita GDP of $19,350 (United National Development Program 1996).(4) In addition, it upgraded housing over the three decades, so that, in 1992, 82 percent of the population lived in publicly provided high-rise housing units that they owned (Department of Statistics 1992). Based on such achievements, Singapore has been categorized a high-income country by the World Bank (World Bank 1996).
Singapore has established relationships with the formerly socialist economies in the region, such as China and Vietnam, which are pursuing transitions to more market-oriented economic structures. It is engaged in many commercial ventures and operates in an advisory capacity. It advocates these countries follow its path, rather than that of the West. In regional forums, …