When Mr Shawn Ang and Ms Abegail Wee were dating at 17, they decided they did not want children. Thirteen years later, the couple, who have been married for eight years, have not changed their minds. Mr Ang, 30, says: “We have no interest in children. Just like some people have no interest in keeping pets.We have had a lot of discussions about this and decided we do not want to raise a child in a world that is getting more crowded and polluted, especially with infectious diseases, cancer and natural disasters becoming more common and threats of nuclear war hovering on the horizon.” In the unlikely event that an “accident” happens, they will keep the baby.
In a telephone interview from Melbourne, Australia, where they now live, Mr Ang, an administrative officer, says: “The bottom line is unchanged. Kids continue to turn us off. We lack paternal and maternal instincts.” There was some pressure from their parents to have children in the early years of their marriage, but they have since stopped asking. Mr Ang has two younger sisters, one of whom is married but with no kids, while Ms Wee has a younger brother who is single.
Some of their friends with children told them they are “missing out on something” and will regret it if they do not have kids. Mr Ang says: “I don’t agree, but I don’t hold it against them. I can see their perspective, but often, they can’t see ours.” Ms Wee, who is also an administrative officer, adds: “If you ask people why they want to have children, you will find that many do so because society or their parents expect them to, or for self-serving reasons, such as they want someone to care for them when they are older or they want to continue their family name.” The couple have no plans to adopt any children for now as they prefer creatures “less complicated” and plan to get a dog or two. In their free time, they go scuba-diving, sightseeing and bushwalking. Ms Wee says: “We relish the freedom to do all these things without the burden of children. There’s more to life than having kids.”
More women here are not having children. A report last month in The Straits Times says the proportion of such women has almost tripled in the past 20 years. Last year, 11.2 per cent of ever-married female citizens and permanent residents aged between 40 and 49 – the age group which is likely to have completed childbearing – had no children. This is up from 7.1 per cent in 2004 and 4.2 per cent in 1994. The women in this age group totalled 267,628 last year. Ever-married refers to those who are now married, divorced or widowed.
Mrs Sarojini Padmanathan, a council member of Families for Life, expects this trend to continue and attributes it to a lack of certainty about the future and a generally fearful and sometimes negative attitude towards child-rearing and having a family. While some couples want children but cannot have them, other couples whom Life spoke to say they choose not to have offspring for various reasons, including a lack of paternal or maternal instincts.
Sociologist Kang Soon Hock from SIM University, however, feels that those who claim the lack of such instincts choose not to be parents not out of a real lack, but more out of fear or concern that they will not be able to live up to the expectation of being a good parent. Digital marketing manager David Ko, 32, for instance, says he is not confident that he would be able to raise his child to be someone who is polite and respectful. He says: “I fear that my child will turn out to be nasty.” He and his wife, 34, a hotel sales manager, have been married for four years. They had initially shelved plans to have kids for only the first two years of marriage as they wanted to save up for the renovation of their four-room Housing Board flat. But after two years, they “never discussed it” again.
Mr Ko, who is the older of two sons, says: “I think my wife knows I don’t want kids and she respects my wishes.” For him, the cost of raising a child is also a concern: “I was shocked to learn that a can of milk powder can cost $50.” Instead of thinking about childcare fees and paying for the education of a child, he is planning to spend $30,000 to $60,000 to pursue a part-time MBA at a local institution as he likes to teach and is keen to be a lecturer in marketing. But he adds that he may change his mind about not having children. “If my parents and in-laws really want us to have children, I would do it out of respect for them,” says Mr Ko, whose wife has a younger sister who is married with one child. His parents, probably sensing a lost cause in his case, are putting the pressure on his younger brother Mark.
The younger Mr Ko, 30, an administrative executive, says: “Almost every week, when I go back to my parents’ place for dinner, my mother would ask me when we are going to have a child.” But he and his wife of three years, project officer Pang Siew Luan, 30, also have no plans for children at the moment. He says: “I want the financial freedom to buy what I like, especially IT gadgets. My wife and I also want to see the world and it would be inconvenient to do this with a child.” Most of his close friends are married with children. He says: “They would sometimes share with me and tell me it’s a joy to come home after work and see and play with their children. “But for me, that’s not a good enough reason to have a kid. In fact, I cannot think of any pros of having children at the moment.”
Ms Pang, who has an older brother who is single, relishes the liberty of being child-free. “I am very comfortable with my life now and the amount of personal time I have after work and during weekends. I have the freedom to relax and do what I want – watch a movie or surf the Net,” she says, adding that having a child is a big commitment. “I don’t think we should start a family just because our parents want us to or because most of our friends have children.”
Sharing her sentiments is Ms Lim Ru Zhen, 27, a senior executive at a destination management firm. Although she has never been a “fan of kids”, her resolve not to have children was strengthened by her volunteer work at the Cat Welfare Society over the last two years. She says: “I would rather help animals or people who need help than bring a new soul into this world.” Her parents, who also have a 12-year-old son, respect her decision, she adds. Even if she were to decide to have a child later, Ms Lim says she would adopt one. She says: “I have helped many abandoned cats find new homes and seen how this has given them a new lease of life. I believe that adoption can benefit unwanted children.” She had numerous thorough “but not heated” discussions with her husband, 25, a civil servant, about not having children before they got married in February.
An only son, he faced some pressure from his mother to have children. Ms Lim’s mother-in-law is still hoping she will change her mind one day. As for property agent B.K. Xu, 49, and his wife of 25 years, they did not have objections to starting a family – their careers and couple time simply took priority over kids. He says they were busy setting up their own business in the early years of their marriage. When their business was more settled, they wanted more time for each other. His wife now manages the business. Mr Xu, who has six siblings, five of whom are married with children, says: “The desire to have children just slowly faded away. They were never a priority. We have no regrets.”
A version of this story was originally published in The Straits Times on October 15, 2015. For more stories like this, head to www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle.