What should come first, a baby or a flat?

A father cradles the tiny feet of his baby girl
Image caption A Singapore minister has reignited debate surrounding the country's slowing birth rates

"You need a very small space to have sex."

Those were the words of Singapore's Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo during a state media interview on marriage and parenthood issues.

Like many wealthy countries, Singapore is facing the challenge of an ageing population and low birth rates, so its government is actively encouraging young citizens to get on with starting a family.

The candid politician, who is in charge of population matters, was asked if part of the reason why young Singaporeans were not having children was because they were having to wait too long to get their own homes.

If they're still living with their parents, it's hard to do what's necessary to have a baby, the argument goes.

But Ms Teo suggested property shouldn't be a priority, as "you need a very small space to have sex".

"In France, in the UK, in Nordic countries, man meets woman [and] they can make a baby already. They love each other," she said.

"It's a matter of living in yours or living in mine. They also don't have to worry about marriage - that comes later," she said.

But in the case of Singapore, she said, "man meets woman, falls in love, proposes and then they plan the wedding and a house".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Singapore boasts world-class public housing, but many young citizens have criticised housing policies in working against them

So what really should come first, having a baby or owning a flat?

Buying a home in Singapore

  • Land-scarce Singapore prides itself on its world-class housing, and has a tightly controlled housing policy.
  • All citizens are entitled to apply for a subsidised Housing and Development Board flat or HDB.
  • A three-bedroom HDB can cost between about S$400,000 ($290,000; £236,000) and S$800,000.
  • They can opt for private housing, but this is a pricier route in one of the most expensive countries in the world.
  • A 2013 scheme gives priority access to new homes to married couples who have or are expecting a child.

'When you care about growth statistics more than citizens'

Ms Teo's words ignited fierce debate on social media.

A Facebook post carrying the interview was shared more than 5,000 times from the Straits Times newspaper's official page.

It also drew a flurry of heated comments from netizens.

"Do you produce flats faster than we produce babies? Such statements only show how much empathy you're lacking with couples," remarked Singaporean Derrick Poh.

"Did she just promote premarital sex? This is what happens when you care more about growth statistics more than citizens' well being," said Shayful Kamal.

"Our society centres on conservative moral values. In Singapore, building a career trumps having a life partner in terms of financial security - but it doesn't mean people don't want to fall in love, get married and have kids," wrote Chng Jing Hui, who also said Ms Teo's comments were "frivolous".

Image copyright Facebook: ST

Other Singaporeans raised the point of financial stability and being "responsible".

"I think she's missed the point; it's not where to have sex. To have a house before a child is correct. Is she encouraging young couples to have babies and continue to depend on their parents? Having a flat also means the couple is financially sound before they can move on to the next stage of life," said Jo-Ann Tan.

Charis Mun said: "Children should be planned for when both parties are ready for the responsibilities of parenthood. And having the stability and security of your own matrimonial home is essential to raise children."

Responding to the criticism, the minister said in a post on her official Facebook page: "My interview might not have captured everything in the way I intended.

"But in all seriousness, we need an honest conversation on how, as a society, we can get ready for Millennial families."

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