The Futility of Gov't Matchmaking in East Asia

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 3/16/2015 01:30:00 AM
Love, exciting and new; come aboard, we're expecting yooouuu...
For understandable reasons drawn from historical precedent, "social engineering" has largely negative connotations. However, this observation hasn't stopped any number of East Asian governments from getting involved in the process of attempting to increase birth rates. Having some of the lowest fertility rates worldwide, government planners have long since hit on the idea that bureaucrats can forestall seemingly inevitable depopulation. Since the long-term consequences of depopulation are rather dire economically, some have gone to great lengths to get "desirable" (read: "native") members of society to breed despite the somewhat comical measures implemented.

Consider Singapore, where the government usually succeeds at everything else except pairing off young'uns:
It was like a college mixer, a classroom full of young men and women seeking a recipe for romance. They had assembled for the first class of "Love Relations for Life: A Journey of Romance, Love and Sexuality." There was giggling and banter among the students, but that was all part of the course material as their teacher, Suki Tong, led them into the basics of dating, falling in love and staying together...

The courses are an extension of government matchmaking programs that try to address the twin challenges embodied in a falling birthrate: Too few people are having babies and too few of those who are belong to what Singapore considers the genetically desirable educated elite [read: those of Chinese descent].

For 25 years, the mating rituals organized by the government - tea dances, wine tasting, cooking classes, cruises, screenings of romantic movies - have been among the country's least-successful social engineering programs. Last year Singapore's fertility rate fell to a record low of 1.24 children per woman of childbearing age, one of the lowest in the world and the 28th year in a row it has stayed below the rate of 2.5 children needed to maintain the population.
Ah, Singapore, where dating agencies are eligible for government grants. Laugh all you want, but there's more: As bad as things are in Singapore, they are even worse in Japan which has been busy depopulating since 2011. So they have Singapore-like strategies on the drawing board, too:
A new draft policy to increase Japan’s flagging birth rate includes support for matchmaking, leave policies, and fertility centers in order to jump-start baby-making and address the country’s aging population. While the national government may not be sponsoring its own matchmaking efforts, it will be support local governments sponsoring speed-dating events, the Japan Times reports.

The number of births in Japan fell to a record low for the fourth year in a row, with just over one million newborns in 2014 compared to 1.269 million registered deaths. By 2060, nearly 40% of Japan’s population will be over 65, and elderly citizens already make up a quarter of the population. The birthrate has fallen from 4.54 children per mother in 1947 to 1.43 in 2013.

Matchmaking is one of several measures proposed by the government to fight the inevitable population dwindle if Japan doesn’t get its birth rate up. Other measures include expanding the scope of free nursing care, building more fertility centers, and increasing paternity leave. The government says it hopes that by 2020, 80% of men will take paternity leave immediately after the birth of their child, and 13% will take paternity leave to help care for children at some point in their careers. (Currently only 2% of men take time off for childrearing.)
If you read economics journals, men spending more time on child-rearing activities results in higher fertility rates in developed countries. Therefore, the actual solution may involve getting men to participate more in these activities which do not seem to be policy priorities in either Singapore or Japan. Then again, when male leaders are those who largely thought up these cockamamie natalist schemes, you wouldn't expect them to encourage fellow men to do more household work, right?

It may thus not be a case of natalist policies being misguided, but rather their content. Nevertheless, I think migration is the real solution once these folks are disabused of hoary notions of "racial purity."