Re-Producing Citizens: Gender, Employment, and Work-Family Balance Policies in Singapore

Shirley Hsiao-Li Sun

DOI: 10.2190/WR.14.3.f


In this article, I explore the effectiveness of state work-family balance policies in shaping individual reproductive decisions in Singapore, the city-state that ranked third in the Global Competitiveness Report 2009-2010 (World Economic Forum, 2009). I draw on in-depth data from interviews with women of childbearing years, as well as data from focus group discussions with women and their peers, spouses, prospective spouses, and parents. Major findings suggest that to be effective, the state's work-family balance policy measures have to recognize citizens' diverse life plans as well as the attendant requests for certain state benefits and workplace rights—such as expanding the quota for paid maternity and paternity leave, having family leave financed by the government rather than by the employer, protecting individuals from dismissal on the grounds of leave of absence, and guaranteeing Singaporean workers the right to request shorter, flexible working hours. Despite the limitations of nonprobability sampling, this study indicates that individual preference is associated with an individual's educational attainment and ethnicity. Finally, this study concludes that the effectiveness of any work-family balance policy is a function not merely of individual aspirations but also of the perceived consequences of meeting workplace expectations; thus, the current policies are particularly ineffective in addressing the concerns of employees in private firms. Taken together, these findings suggest that the state needs to reconsider the economic production-at-all-cost approach and become more proactive in supporting workers' right to paid employment and family life.

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