Please Stop at Two
Please Stop at Two
Singapore Family Planning Poster, 1972
Date: c. 1972
Source: Corbis Corporation
About the Artist: This family planning poster is a part of the Bettmann Collection of images maintained by the Corbis Corporation, a worldwide provider of visual content to advertisers, broadcasters, designers, magazines, media organizations, newspapers, and producers. The creator of the poster is unknown.
The Republic of Singapore underwent a remarkable social and economic transformation after the end of the Second World War. The Southeast Asian island nation, a struggling Third World economy in the immediate postwar period, had a rapidly growing population with one of the highest birthrates in the world per capita, coupled with a poor standard of living. Even today Singapore, comprised of the city and the surrounding islands, is one of the most densely populated nations in the world.
The government supported the formation of the Singapore Family Planning Association in 1949, a private organization that represented one of the earliest government-sanctioned popular efforts to reduce fertility. The country's birth rate peaked in 1957, leading to fears that unchecked population growth would destroy its economy and create the future economic burden of a larger and older population.
When Lee Kuan Yew became president in 1959, the nation began to reform virtually every social and political institution. Lee was determined that Singapore would become a First World economy; a cornerstone of that ambition was reduction in the national birthrate.
The policies enacted by Singapore were comprehensive. "Stop at Two," the national campaign, included abortion, which was legalized in 1970 and encouraged as a population-control method. Between 1969 and 1972, the government also imposed significant disincentives for families who chose to have more than two children, including income tax consequences and the elimination of paid maternity leave for government employees. The government offered rewards to those Singaporeans who underwent voluntary sterilization, and promoted the use and the understanding of various forms of contraception.
After 1975, the Singapore birth rate had been reduced to a level that would maintain the then current population level of almost three million persons. Government analysts saw the desired rise in economic performance, with an accompanying higher standard of living, better education, and a higher rate of female employment (with children being born later in their mother's lives).
New demographic concerns appeared in 1985, however, when the birth rate fell below the point at which the population was being sustained. In 1986, the "Stop at Two" campaign was replaced by "Have Three or More, If You Can Afford It" campaign. The government created incentives to have larger families, including a 1989 provision in which a fourth child earned its parents a $20,000 tax rebate.
In 1990, Singapore remained a boom economy, nicknamed one of the Asian "tigers" whose economic growth was rivaled only by Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan. In 2006, Singapore enacted a further child subsidy program, dubbed a "baby bonus", in the government's ongoing efforts to manage the growth of its population.
Please Stop at Two
See primary source image.
This 1972 photograph of a Singapore family planning poster was taken at the height of one of the most aggressive and comprehensive population control campaigns ever undertaken in any country. The poster uses the image of a stork—a symbol associated with birth and parenthood—to further the government message. The sign hanging from the stork that references a work stoppage cleverly underscores the aggressive nature of the campaign.
Other countries created different types of incentives—and disincentives—for the creation of larger families. The "baby bonus" was popular in countries such as Canada throughout the post-World War II period. These monthly government subsidies were a minor incentive that encouraged families to have more children. China, the world's most populous nation, enacted a one-child policy to curb population growth in 1979. It has been a permanent feature of Chinese domestic policy since then, with mixed results; the population has continued to grow, but at a slower rate.
The Singapore population control initiatives were remarkable on a number of levels, beginning with the legalization of abortion in 1970. In contrast with the protracted battles over the procedure in many countries, Singapore treated abortion as only one of a number of tools to achieve its goals in population control. The availability and legality of abortion in Singapore remained unaffected by the reversal in government policy to encourage population growth in 1986.
Without eliminating complete freedom of choice in family planning, the government of Singapore has been more actively involved in the influence of the family decision-making process than any government in the world, with the exception of China. Western nations of comparable economic and social stability have never seriously proposed such comprehensive measures. Modern Singapore is a sophisticated, buoyant economy; a 2006 Mercer Consulting survey gave Singapore the thirty-fourth-highest quality of living standard among world cities. The current population of approximately 4.5 million persons is racially, culturally and religiously diverse.
It is equally significant that Singapore has directed its attention to fertility as the primary tool of encouraging a population increase, as opposed to other methods, such as increasing immigration. Implicit in the government policies is the recognition that the encouragement of greater immigration carries with it a range of other social factors. Singapore is not a homogeneous nation, but it has a dominant ethnic group (Chinese), and a number of smaller ethnic populations who live in relative social harmony. Assimilating immigrants into the unique demographic mixture that is Singapore would present challenges; to permit immigrant cultures to live in a fashion inconsistent with Singapore culture might provoke disharmony. Aggressive policy making in family planning matters exchanged some individual family freedom of choice for a national objective.
A significant political outcome of Singapore's family planning policies was the long political career of Lee Kuan Yew, who served as president from 1965 to 1990, the time frame in which the family planning policies were implemented and executed. Yew believed that the "Stop at Two" campaign helped increase understanding of the importance of proper family planning to Singapore's viability. In his book, From Third World to First: The Singapore Story, Yew concluded that the nation's economic success in the 1990s would not have occurred without the population-management policies.
Yew, Lee Kuan. From Third World to First: The Singapore Story 1965–2000. New York: Harper Collins, 2000.
Pyle, Jean l. "Women, the Family and Economic Restructuring: The Singapore Model." Review of Social Economics. 2 (1997): 215-223.
RAND. "Family Planning in Developing Countries." 1999 〈http://www.rand.org/pubs/issue_paper/IP176?index2.html〉 (accessed June 26, 2006).
Republic of Singapore. "Changing Contraceptive Choices of Singapore Women." 2000 〈http://www.singstat.gov.sg/ssn/feat/2Q99/featapr991.pdf〉 (accessed June 26, 2006).