Dragon Babies Don’t Have All The Luck

My wife, Rachel Chan, wrote this commentary piece for my paper (Fri, Jan 27, 2012).

I am reproducing the article here as I was mentioned in it. I really do not think it is a good idea to deliberately have a baby in the year of the dragon. Not every dragon baby is going to grow up to be a Lee Hsien Loong – statistically, dragon babies will have to work harder than babies born in lesser favoured years.

Via DivaAsia.com:

THE other day, my husband lamented over how “unlucky” our five- month-old son was to have been born in the Year of the Rabbit.

Did he wish that Asher – whose conception had been a complete surprise – was born in the Year of the Dragon instead? Quite the contrary, actually.

Asher Lim, born in the year of the Rabbit
Asher Lim, born in the year of the Rabbit

He said that Asher would have been better off had he been born under the Chinese zodiac signs of the Rat, Ox, Tiger or Snake – the zodiac signs least preferred by the Chinese in childbearing and marriage. But these babies – in theory, at least – have more demographic luck.

Now, I have absolutely no intention of putting down all the excited parents and parents-to-be of Dragon babies. I also wish to expressly state that I am not discouraging anyone from bearing children.

I am perfectly sure that everyone will agree that a complex mix of hereditary, environmental and socio-economic factors will determine whether a child eventually grows up to be an achiever.

But, like my husband, I believe that, if there is an especially good time for a baby to be born, it is not the Year of the Dragon. The fact that a surfeit of Dragon babies will cause a crunch in childcare and infant-care centres, schools and delivery wards does not seem to faze many.

What’s more, Dragon babies will grow up to become adults vying for the same pool of housing and employment.

It is interesting to note that the resale prices of Housing Board flats started rising from 2002 onwards. This has often been attributed to demand outstriping supply, but has anyone thought – other than blaming permanent residents – that the 1976 Dragon babies could have contributed to the peak in demand?

By 2002, they were 26 years old – about the time when people start thinking about marriage. I believe that these Dragon adults conducted their house hunts over several years.

Last year, the total fertility rate increased slightly, from 1.15 in 2010 to 1.2, the unofficial reason being that the Year of the Rabbit is more auspicious than that of 2010’s Tiger.

This year, the birth rate is expected to soar. Already, infant-care centres are beginning to fill up.

A friend, who will deliver in March, started shopping for infant care last October. The centre of her first choice placed her in 10th place on the waiting list for July enrolment. She settled for her second choice, which has confirmed a place for her baby.

Looking ahead, our workforce is becoming increasingly global. Singapore’s Dragon babies will be up against those of China’s when they’re grown. If we are finding international competition to be hotting up now, what more 20 years down the road?

In explaining why it is advantageous to be born in a generation after a baby boom, writer Malcolm Gladwell quotes economist H. Scott Gordon in Outliers, a book about why some people attain more success than others. Mr Gordon made a notable point about the particular benefits of one being born during the demographic trough of the 1930s.

“When he opens his eyes for the first time, it is in a spacious hospital, well-appointed to serve the wave that preceded him. The staff are generous with their time, since they have little to do while they ride out the brief period until the next wave hits,” he wrote.

“Then he hits the job market. The supply of new entrants is low and demand is high, because there is a large wave coming behind him providing a strong demand for the goods and services of his potential employers.”

Mr Gladwell calls one who was born in such a perfect time – during a lull in birth rate – as having “demographic luck”. Hence, by extrapolation, Dragons are less likely to have demographic luck than a Rat baby.

Personally, I just hope that my little Rabbit won’t be washed up on shore by the huge wave of Dragons behind him when he gets out of school.

4 thoughts on “Dragon Babies Don’t Have All The Luck”

  1. Although I believe in the old “supply-and-demand” economics theory, I believe your wife’s argument is flawed in a few examples that she gave.

    Firstly, in the Housing example she gave in the increase in prices from 2002 onwards, she believed that part of the factor attributed to dragon babies turning 26 and is a “right” age and “right” time to get a flat. I look around me, people my age, I am not born in the year of the Dragon, and I surely do not see 26 as the “Magic Number” of housing and marriage. I see a range from 25-31 yrs old, with more concentration from 29-31. I do not see the dragon babies being a factor of contribution to housing prices increase, in fact, not at all. How else can we explain the continual increase of prices from 2002 to 2012? Babies born in the snake, horse, goat etc? So let’s go back to blame the PRs and influx of foreigners.

    Secondly, in terms of the workforce, yes Dragon babies may face infant care and primary school competition as most enter Primary school at the age of 7. But the line is increasingly blur as the children grow up, some choosing to go into Poly, some into JC, some prefer to go overseas to study. Some of them prefer to take a 4 year engineering course, and others, a 3 years degree. Graduates enter the workforce at different age, and one year of difference by then do not matter, I do not then see the workforce competition of just dragon babies against dragon babies. It’ll be a mixture of a range of ages, and zodiac signs. Yes, your child born in the year of Rabbit will be up against the competition with the Dragon pool, together with Snake babies etc when he enters the workforce.

    Just hope to clarify and share some of my ideas. 🙂

  2. Hi Ning,

    Heh heh, yes, I am aware that my argument is flawed. I am also greatly lacking in eloquence. However, I’m afraid you weren’t exactly spot-on about my mistakes.

    The biggest mistake that I made is not citing exactly how many more people were added to our population due to the birth of Dragon babies in our resident population in 1976. However, this info isn’t available on our Statistics Singapore website. The Government only started making public our resident population growth about 10 years ago.

    So, since figures of our population increase has been muddied by the influx of foreigners, we are unable to see the true Dragon Effect. But I still do not think that Housing is a poor example, as it is certain that our resident population DEFINITELY increased because of higher birth rates in 1976. If you compare resident population employment figures between 2000 and 2001, you will notice an almost 30,000 increase.

    As already mentioned in my column, the cost of housing started rising from 2002 onwards. I agree that 26 is not a magic number. I used it as a loose benchmark for the age normal people start shopping for a flat. I also added that the Dragon babies, after reaching this age, probably continued their search for several years. What I did not add is the obvious reasoning that many of them might have only started flat-shopping AFTER 26.

    My argument is that: It does not matter when the Dragon babies ended their search. As long as these people are in the housing market, there will be a squeeze, as and when Snake, Dog, Tiger babies become eligible to buy their own housing. (I was born in the Year of the Dog and I only purchased my own flat at the age of 27, not 26.) Of course, this is an inconclusive argument.

    As for whether PRs and foreigners are responsible, MND needs to release more data to conclusively prove that it is not so.

    I agree with you that as the Dragon babies grow up, their paths will become increasingly diversified, and they will enter tertiary institutions and the workforce at different times. But there will be MORE of them. When I said that Dragon babies would compete for the same pool of resources at the same time, by “same time” I didn’t mean the exact same year. Dragon babies entering poly will be entering poly in the same year, those entering uni will enter in the same year, and so on. And eventually, an estimated 30,000 more babies-turned-adults will have to find their place in society within the same period of time, even if staggered over a few (short) years.

    Those who choose to go overseas won’t be spared of competition, but in fact will be up against more competition with the Dragon babies from China and its special regions. You can argue that our increase of Dragon babies is neglible as we have such a small population in the first place, but when you extrapolate to a humongus population such as China’s, even a minute increase can cause ripples across a huge pond.


  3. Tell you what you should do. Have a late dragon baby. Get him born in January of the next year, in the same calendar year as all the snakes. Then you’d get the best of both worlds.

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