Government of Singapore Tries Its Hand at Matchmaking to Boost Its Population

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The government has established three separate agencies to persuade people to get married, a typical function in most other societies of matchmakers, aunts and neighborhood busybodies.

The latest is the Social Promotion Section, which organizes social activities where school dropouts ages 20 to 35 can meet. About 150,000 of Singapore's 2.6 million people are in that category.

"I have to mix around with members and help them break the ice between them with my personality," said David Chua, 35, head of the new agency.

"I want to make them talk to each other. I have to see myself as a matchmaker. I can't just sit back and watch, hoping they will fall in love."

His agency plans to sponsor dances, barbecues, group travel and courses in personal development.

It joins the Social Development Unit, created by Dr. Eileen Aw in 1984 for single college graduates, and the Social Development Section, run by Sam Tan, which was formed in 1985 to promote marriage among high school graduates.

Early skeptics described the Social Development Unit as a bureaucratic lonely hearts club for the "single, desperate and ugly." With the resources of the Ministry of Finance behind it, however, the organization made steady progress in Singapore's conservative society.

A declining birthrate and charges of elitism prompted the government to widen a matchmaking program that originally served only civil servants with university degrees. Critics say it still smacks of discrimination, since the groups served are segregated by education qualifications.

About 9,700 members belong to the original agency, and it claims credit for more than 570 marriages.

At the end of last year, the Social Development Section for high school graduates had 48,000 members, and more than 7,280 former members had married.

Married women were caught trying to sneak into that group, so the new Social Promotion Section will check up on applicants.

The government created the first of its matchmaking bureaus after Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said in 1983 that Singapore might be doomed by a deteriorating talent pool because too many educated women remain single and childless.

"Levels of competence will decline," he declared. "Our economy will falter, the administration will suffer and society will decline."

Part of the problem was that Singapore's men preferred to marry women less educated than they, while women wanted to marry upward.

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