On managing heterochronous developments in Singapore


Attilio Rapisarda:

Hi Cheryl,

Interesting article: thanks!

I am very interested in learning about the reasons why people in service & knowledge-based societies are reluctant to marry and have children.

I believe that a fundamental reason is the changing economic value of children: from assets to liabilities.

In rural societies, children were “energy”. In our modern societies, children not only start being productive increasingly later in life but are also less willing to provide for their elderly parents. Labour markets’ demand for “flexibility” also means that children find it harder to be physically close and economically solid enough to serve their “filial piety” corvée. Some people will find that the wish to have children should not be based on economic incentives and should rather be based on “love”.

Still, as you have pointed out in your article, having children for “love” is a relatively recent idea in our history. Traditionally, political or economical reasons based the decision for marriage and children. Also, although humans are certainly capable of acts that transcend individual interests, they generally are driven by the satisfaction of practical needs, just like any other mammal: food, shelter, accumulation of resources.

I think that such shift on how children are perceived – from “asset” to “liability” – reflects a reality that is more certain, stable and lasting for potential parents than any of the incentives the Singaporean government is currently proposing. For this, I believe such incentives are destined to failure.

I wonder whether we are in a situation of “heterochrony”: two systems – the productive system and the reproductive system – that evolve at different speeds. The societal forms subserving the reproductive system evolve at a much slower pace and we are now stuck with forms of marriage and family that fit the rural productive system but not the knowledge-based one.

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Hi Attilio,

Thank you for your interesting email that inspired many thoughts on my side.

Regarding your question why people in service and knowledge-based societies are reluctant to marry and have children, I think this trend is not necessarily restricted to service and knowledge-based societies. I think this is a long time trend in all modern societies that – when people are starting to get better educated, becoming more affluent, having achieved a certain lifestyle and standard of living – they perhaps would want to enjoy such benefits a little longer before settling down.

Considering that resources are finite, whether tangible or intangible, sharing that context with one or more additions to the family would certainly call for a redistribution of resources. In the context of Singapore, due to the eastern Confucius system of filial piety, an average couple of child-bearing age would also want to have resources for taking care of their parents, and might not even want them to need to settle for less than their normal standard of living in their golden years.

Certainly you have a point in thinking that we might have a heterochrony problem, and it is when we begin to figure out how we as members in a society should deal with that, that it gets interesting!

It is in this light I would like to refer to Clare W. Graves’ work on Levels of Existence in order to explain the Singapore government led initiative of child incentives (The Baby Bonus Scheme), where concisely put, the scheme that is seemingly in place to address the country’s low Total Fertility Rate (TFR), can perhaps be argued to at least as much support the “Singapore Incorporated” strategic vision and destiny (Haley, Low and Toh 1996) .

I also think that borrowing the concept of “sequence heterochrony” in which a developmental trajectory is conceptualized as a series of discrete events (Smith 2001, 2002) might be useful when looking at the context of Singapore.

Singapore is part of the global institution and currently functions necessarily in heterarchous relations to other countries of the world (APEC, ASEAN, UN, UNSC etc). It’s role from its founding as a free port of trade in the 1800s, its immigrant history through the early 1900s, how it is unique as a country in being vulnerable to the processes of globalization, in today’s globalizing context can also be placed in relation to “global dialogue” topics of discussion, concepts such as “global sourcing” (ref. Australia’s “golden ticket visa program”, 23 Nov 2012) and “outsourcing” (ref. Surrogacy, Stanford University 2008 and New York Times 4 Oct 2011).

If we were then to look at the infrastructure and services of Singapore for example from Changi Airport, Marina Bay Sands, Marina Bay Cove, Marina Bay Cruise Center, Sentosa Cove, even Gardens by the Bay – where one could scoff or cringe at the last example, at the fact that Singapore is charging people to see plants – all still remain poignant indications of where the country is headed in the future. You could soon argue that this could as well be a coherent and consistent strategic visioning for the country, where the “Baby Bonus Scheme” can be said in Gravesian framework, to be an advanced and high-level solution to a heterochronous development. It is a socio-economic policy in place to buffer a regressive reaction, whilst not detracting from an overall strategy if that were the case. This is not to say that Singapore cannot be a baby haven in future, but things take time and priorities need to be made for the country as a single individualistic global player to succeed.

Anyway, as you can imagine this could fill up pages with theories, where I found the work of Clare Graves in this aspect, most interesting.

Cheryl