| On 2 years ago

Our Fading (Views on Love) — in the 70s, Singaporeans Could Love, but Not Too Much

As evolutionary psychologists would say, love and attraction are constantly evolving and changing because we, as humans, do. The affection that Neanderthals once knew was definitely miles apart from the love that we now experience. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves—we already have a case worth looking at even in Singapore’s recent years.

It felt like ages ago when the family planning agenda was on just about every signboard ever—first warning Singaporeans of the perils of teenage marriage, and then, following the post-war baby boom, telling us to stop at two. Ironically, it wasn’t long after when the Graduate Mothers’ Scheme was introduced in 1984, encouraging more highly-educated couples to have children in hopes of breeding smarter, more disciplined offsprings.

Poster Advising Against Teenage Marriage In English | Credit National Archives of Singapore
Poster Advising Against Teenage Marriage In Tamil | Credit National Archives of Singapore
Poster Advising Against Teenage Marriage In Mandarin | Credit National Archives of Singapore

It appears as though Singaporeans can never seem to get our family planning right. Following the one-time spike in post-war babies, replacement rates haven’t quite been the same again. In turn, the Singapore Family Planning & Population Board (SFPPB) has struggled with the perfect formula for their campaigns too.

And while correlation hardly equates to causation, it’s undeniable that our birth rates somehow reflect our views and perception of love in one way or another. Back in the 70s, the alarming rise in teenage marriages could have been attributed to the fact that young Singaporeans lacked the necessary sex and family education.

Likewise, the higher birth rates in general were probably because of two reasons—couples had more family-oriented goals, and that they were trying, relentlessly, for baby boys especially in a time where patriarchy prevailed. This led to campaigns such as “Stop at two” and “A happy marriage is worth waiting for“.

Credit National Archives of Singapore
Credit National Archives of Singapore
Credit National Archives of Singapore
Credit National Archives of Singapore

Come the 80s, birth rates were falling—fast. The iconic Have three or more, if you can afford it’ campaign was launched, and Singapore’s birth rate was predicted to recover by 1995. But it never did. It’s a sharp twist of events that shocked and even became concerning for the state, especially when the longevity of its citizens was at stake.

We’ve all learnt it in books—becoming more career-centred and less family-minded, having many other priorities in life, and limited finances were all reasons cited for the declining replacement rates. This then begs the question, have these factors subconsciously shaped our view on love?

To me, love, like many other things, is moulded by our culture. It is a product of how we interact with one another, and a reaction of what we regard as valuable. The modern Singapore love story is almost synonymous with finding a partner in university, being together for 4 years, getting a Built-To-Order (BTO flat), and then having children—but not too many lest you lose too much of your freedom looking after them.

Some call us heartless, but the policies and red tape we’ve have to grapple with have somehow pushed us into a corner. If I could draw links to linguistic relativity—or the Sapir Whorf Hypothesis as some know it—language shapes thought.

Similarly, the way we talk about and approach the subject of marriage in Singapore has a part to play on the thoughts and actions that govern us. Ever heard of that one friend who proposed to his girlfriend by popping the “Want to BTO or not?” question? Or perhaps it’s something more covert, like how the only reason that your brother decided to get married is because he wants to have children in future—because growing up, we’ve been taught that having children out of wedlock is very unbecoming of us Asians.

At the end of the day, we may look back at these decades-old posters in jest, mostly ridiculing the absurdity of them all. But it’s important to remember that they were once relevant—hence the need to create them in the first place.

With that, I leave you with some interesting food for thought—do policies shape Singapore’s view on love or do our preconceived notions of love shape the policies which are, after all, catered to us?

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