Yesterday was National Day in Singapore, a day to commemorate the country’s separation from Malaysia in 1965. The event is traditionally marked by a parade, but this year the evening’s festivities might have been more memorable. A little over a week ago, the candy maker Mentos released a commercial promoting “National Night”—a call for Singaporeans to do their civic duty and make babies.
Singapore’s birth rate is at a record low. Female citizens of the country now give birth to about one child in their lifetime, a number that used to be much higher. (American women, by comparison, have about 2 children.) According to a video released by Singapore’s government, the city-state needs to produce about 50,000 children per year to maintain its population and avoid the economic calamity associated with an aging citizenry. But the current birth rate is less than 30,000 children per year. To combat the problem, last month the government sought ideas from the public; that’s when The Freshmaker popped in.
The Mentos National Night commercial is, more or less, a rap song encouraging married couples to have contraceptive-free sex on National Day. The song’s lyrics appear on the screen in time with the tune, karaoke-display style. (Sample line: “I’m a patriotic husband, you my patriotic wife, lemme book into ya camp and manufacture a life.”)
So should we expect a baby boom on the island in nine months? Probably not. Booms in baby-making usually reflect both cultural norms and economic prosperity. There is little evidence that baby booms can be triggered by marketing campaigns. (They are also not a result of power outages, terrorist attacks, and salacious novels, as Slate’s Amanda Marcotte pointed out last month.) The baby boom of the 1950s, for instance, coincided with a roaring post-war economy and Leave It to Beaver-style family values. But childbirths fell sharply in the ’70s as the economy declined and the role of women in the family changed.
In Singapore, young people seem to be putting off childbirth in favor of increased education. As the Financial Times reported, in Singapore 44 percent of men and 30 percent of women between the ages of 30 and 34 are single. The economic incentives the country could use to increase its birthrate are, for the most part, already in place. In 2001, the government introduced a Baby Bonus. Mothers receive $4000 for each of the first two children they give birth to and $6000 for each of their next two children. (Twins and triplets, in case you were wondering, are considered separate births.)
Given that the Mentos ad was not commissioned by the government (despite what you may have read elsewhere), it seems likely that the campaign is simply trying to capitalize on a national crisis rather than actually bolster baby-making. Even so, Singapore’s government doesn’t seem to mind; they’ve let the advertisement run uncensored in a country that once banned a Janet Jackson album for “sexually explicit” lyrics.
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