The city state of Singapore is a discursive space that has been perpetually re-created through the overarching discourses of subsistence and crises. The desire for excellence and international acknowledgement has left our government hankering after economic development and prosperity. Our current landscapes represent a “postmodern adventure” where traditional forms of culture are being resurrected, imploded into and moulded with wholly new cultural forms in the whirlwind of globalization. Although much has been done to form a unique Singapore identity, the Singapore identity is still in its infancy. With the increasingly aggressive intrusion of globalization into our city state, the “Singaporeanness” the young nation has always been struggling to construct is thrown into jeopardy.
“Staying Rooted While Going Global”
Most describe Singapore as a hybrid caught between ‘traditional Asian values’ and the prominent Western exterior that allegedly conceals deep underlying (implicitly Chinese) culture.
In official Singaporean oration, family is an essential foundation of society and one of the ‘basic values’ of national culture. Family and “Singaporean-ness” are intimately interlinked; the success of the former reflects on positive portrayal of the other. However, with the encroachment of globalization, the question of tradition versus modernization emerges. Unlike present-day Western idealisations of the family as a voluntary assemble of coequals, the traditional patrilineal, patrilocal Chinese holds the family as its vital constituent. While Singapore is busy combining economic thinking (often perceived as ‘modern’) with tradition, modern day Singaporeans are affected by Western impressions that affect family structures in a way that brushes our Singaporean tradition aside in favour of modernity. This implies that hierarchical structures and loyalties commonly attributed to traditional Singaporean Chinese families are gradually being substituted by Westerners’ brand of individualism: Weak ties within the family and extended family.
Our Westernized approach to globalization and social phenomena have displaced the organic Singapore family by redefining our family values and inducing us to be cynical about family, marriage, children and old aged parents and becoming more self-centred. Family relations have become increasingly blurred with money relations.
Family as the basic social unit:
Family is the indisputable basis for the development of sense of identity.
“A family is a fundamental unit of the society”, which is valued by Singapore as one of the elementary value decrees to preserve communal sustenance and development. The central content of “Singaporean culture” is to endow explanation of modernization and localization with the “Eight Virtues” in Confucianism, namely, “loyalty, filial piety, kind-heartedness, love, propriety, justice, honesty and honour”. The family is crucial in assembling these values within our nation; an adhesive that holds our identity all together in a common space, where the traditional Singaporean Chinese culture can be handed down from parents to the next generation. Closely-knit families are important channels for Singapore to keep its social stability and cohesion. In a family where stout “parent-child” ties are present, parents can better educate their children and nurture them to be a better people, fostering a sense of belonging with the country and retaining the morals of Singaporean-ness in the education as parents themselves become their children’s very own teachers.
There’s No Family to Even Start With
Singaporeans are now more pluralistic and receptive to diverse ideas. Business opportunities are no longer restricted to the country and the prospect of going overseas is becoming increasingly popular. They are becoming more globalised, and more marketable internationally.
Obligation to marriage does not fit well with the escalating individualism and liberty in a ‘me-first’ society, where self-fulfilment takes precedence. Couples are re-defining their marriages to accommodate their hectic lifestyles and needs. There is a mounting trend of serialized monogamy, where couples are dedicated to their marriage for as long as it benefits them. When their needs are not met, the relationship becomes a throwaway item.
Singaporeans are now marrying late (if at all). Many delay to build up their careers, paying attention only to materialistic pursuits. Married couples show an adverse attitude towards procreating as many are unwilling to bear the burden of juggling both children and work. With an influx of women entering the workforce, they are unwilling to sacrificing their time and freedom. As women play a vital role in child-bearing, they also convince their husbands to share their perspective to fulfil their economic goals and individualistic desires. (view appendix)
The Chinese of Singapore have always had a positive view on starting families; as said by my mother, “Back then, our parents loved children (laughs). However busy they were, they made time for us—or at least, in making us. Though I was from a three-child family, it was already considered small compared to the families of my classmates back then.” As Singaporean Chinese, the Confucian virtues our forefathers have passed down to us that made it a norm for us to express our love and care for the people via the form of family, are lost with the intrusion of Westernization.
“Daddy and Mummy always so busy”
Okay, so let’s say couples get married and actually start a family, here comes another worry: Parents are so caught up with work they barely have time for their children. Parents catch themselves burning the candle at both ends as they scuffle to balance the burden of work and family. Many are from dual-income families, and while providing for the children is no longer a problem, their “family-time” is sacrificed. These working parents throw the responsibility of caring for their children to foreign domestic helpers and day-care centres.
When their children stretch out their palms in demand of something, these guilt-ridden parents would give in to their demands—seeing this as a form of “love” and “care”. This brings forth flawed values and undermines the very essence of a “family”. The Singapore Family Values—love, care and concern, mutual respect, filial responsibility, commitment and communication is hardly fulfilled. Globalization is tearing parents from their children who are in need of their concern and attention, with domestic helpers as step-in substitutes to play the part of “parenting” that parents themselves have selfishly neglected. Children grow up more distanced from their parents, and not receiving the proper moral education; the vicious cycle starts all over again—as children grow up disrespecting or distancing themselves from their parents and not living together, corrupting the tradition Chinese Singaporean identity. The disconnection between parents and their children is evident through a survey that I conducted, as can be seen from the appendix.
Home Without Walls
Over the decades, globalization has contributed to the fragmentation of the extended family system in Singapore. Households, formerly comprising three generations, have been riven into nuclear families residing in their own apartments. As families become smaller and women participate increasingly in the workforce, the support traditionally provided to the elderly is being eroded.
Generational shift is often noted, thus contrasting ‘new and young’ with ‘traditional and old’, with the ‘new and young’ standing for Western and international. The two worlds are often described as contrasting and clashing. There is no longer a common space. The family, a strongest institution of the Singapore organic culture, helps preserve its traditional, ethnic, religious values and norms. These values include filial piety, pro-family attitudes, pro-creation attitudes etc. With shattering of familial relationships due to the onslaught of globalization, we Singaporeans are very quickly losing our basic identity.
The solution to this:
- Singapore workers work the longest hours
The minimum number of working hours per week is 44 hours, which is relatively high compared to the average of 38 hours of other countries. (View appendix) Even an hour off earlier per day is beneficial to the family, said my father who revealed that most of his colleagues expressed the same views. More developed countries such as the United States of America, Germany, Russia and China are also clocking in lesser hours with a high productivity rate. More family time, would bond the couple themselves—encouraging child-bearing, and at the same time fostering closer bonds between parents and child.
2. Encourage Child Birth and Marriage
The Singapore Government should commemorate an official Day of Conception whereby couples get the day off on Friday to have sex. Couples who conceive nine months from that day will stand a chance to get attractive prices—such as large sum of money, a car, or a free residential area. Aside from that, all couples will receive a definite $2000; for the second, a $5000, and $10000 for third child and so on. The significantly larger monetary award for the second and third child would definitely encourage childbirth. Also, companies should allow 16 weeks of mandatory, paid maternity leave. “Throwing” cash (MORE cash in this case) at new parents and making it easy for them to balance their careers and families, is attractive bait. The government is simply not doing enough to help families with the expenses of the heightening standard of living.
Besides using money as a form of reward, the government can use it as a “threat”. Couples below 40 years of age who have been living under the same roof for 10 years without giving birth to children, should be asked to pay a 20% increase in income tax. The prospect of having to feed the government with more of their hard-earned money would push couples to reproduce. For unmarried individuals above the age of 40, an increase of 10% of income tax will be demanded from them. This would counter both childbirth and marriage problems, should couples decide to not marry given the first threat.
There should be ads about having a family which are placed in daily commutes which Singaporeans will look at when traveling to work, not just ads in the TV. Get people excited about making/having babies. Show people what’s in store for them if they have a baby; What are the benefits; What can they gain when having a baby? The government is focusing too much in tossing out monetary incentives (albeit insufficient) and neglecting to bring up the hype and excitement among citizens to have babies.
4.Bonding time with the Elderly
After the elderly reach 65 years of age, they have to attend mandatory reskilling courses—similar to primary school education, which will help to narrow the generation gap. As these people are reskilled, they can join the workforce again at any age they desire, provided they are living with one of their children.
Also, higher-paying positions, of income $6000 and above, should be given (or prioritized) to employees residing with their elderly parents—either maternal or paternal. For families registering under 5-room, executive, condominiums, bungalows, etc. private housings, the income tax would be increased by 20% if they were to not live with their parents (given that their parents are currently not living with anyone).
There should be a “family reunion day” whereby all three generations meet to share a meal or an outing, similar to the mandatory Chinese New Year that we all celebrate. Children should be educated about the benefits of living with their grandparents, as they can be a source of “encouragement” for their parents to live with the elderly.
However, conflicts may arise when such solutions are implemented due to the monetary involvements; but, thinking from another perspective, such incidents are inevitable in whatever action the government takes. Although much unhappiness may arise in the beginning, the benefits to be reaped from thus solutions are considerable.
Also, taking care of ageing parents or having children are major decisions that necessitate sincere beliefs about the importance of family. People themselves have to believe in the inherent worth of these options. Money cannot buy families ties. Although the above solutions can improve the relationships within the family, people can also adhere to the above solutions without actually wanting to do it. The financially-driven solutions might actually end up with depraved behaviour: acceptance of the money or complying to imposed regulations without corresponding closeness. Most importantly, these incentives may be perceived as tainting their values somehow. When I asked my aunt if she thought tax credits affect people’s childbearing dispositions, she laughed and said, “Hopefully not! That shouldn’t be the reason why you have kids. Next time you tell the kid, ‘Eh boy ah, I had you because of the twenty thousand dollars!’” These solutions appear to have “failed” in some important ways. The most important thing after all, is effectively tackling the mind-sets of people—which can then be attended to after the solutions have done their part.
A comprehensive study of 16 married Chinese Singaporean women who have chosen not to have babies show that the top reason against babies for university-educated women who earn an average monthly pay of $6,250 is that they feel they cannot cope with both motherhood and their jobs, and are reluctant to give up their career prospects. Some do not view children as a necessity for a whole family, despite society’s definition of a family is one with a couple and children.
- Taiwanese workers were the only ones who came close in 2007, but they have also clocked fewer hours since 2008 while the Japanese held constant. Though the report was released recently and quotes International Monetary Fund data from October 2009, the survey does not go beyond the first half of 2009.
- The report says:
- Overall, out of 13 examples of published statistics on hours worked in 2008 and/or 2009, 11 registered a decline in working time compared to 2007. The average working time among these 13 examples has declined from 39 to 38.2 hours per week. Men and women have both been affected… we find that hours worked by women declined from 36.4 hours to 35.8 while hours worked by men declined from 40.7 hours to 40.0 hours.
- According to the ILO report,
- Overall, while a majority of countries could maintain declining but positive wage growth in 2008, more than a quarter of countries experienced flat or falling monthly wages in real terms. These countries include the U.S.A. (0.0 %), Austria (0.0 %), Costa Rica (0.0 %), South Africa (–0.3 %), Germany (–0.6 %), Switzerland (–0.7 %), Israel (–0.9 %), Japan (–0.9 %), Singapore (–1.0 %), Mauritius (–1.0 %), Kazakhstan (–1.1 %), the Republic of Korea (–1.5 %), Panama (–2.8 %), Mexico (–3.5 %), Ecuador (–4.1 %), Iceland (–4.8 %), and Seychelles (–15.5 %). Declines of 3.6 per cent and 6.2 per cent were recorded in Taiwan, China and Hong Kong, China, respectively
–The Figures Tell the Truth
Women do not want children
In 2010, 20.5 per cent of ever-married female Singaporeans in the 30 to 39 age group were childless – a substantial leap from the 13.2 per cent in 2000, said demographer Gavin Jones. By the end of their child-bearing years, the proportion of married women in their 40s who are childless has also risen in the past decade, although not as sharply as those in their 30s, he noted. In 2010, 8.6 per cent of ever-married female citizens in the 40 to 49 age group were childless – up from 6 per cent in 2000. Ever-married refers to those currently married, divorced or widowed.
“The latest Census data proposes that more wedded Singaporeans are not having babies, said Professor Jones of the Asia Research Institute.”
Interviews and surveys
Leanne, a 35-year-old graduate (a relative) and a managing director whom I interviewed, revealed that she and her husband (—a regional sales director) of five years do not want children because it entails a lifetime of worrying about everything—“like childcare and getting into top-notch schools”. After a moment’s thought, she added: ‘It’s troublesome, way too exhausting. Having kids just isn’t worth it. They give you more concerns to think about.’
Zooming in on the Chinese
The group targeted here is the Chinese Singaporeans, which are more affected by the globalization phenomena. The Chinese have the largest aging population due to the lowest fertility rate among other ethnic groups.
Q: The government wants people to have more children. Do you think they want certain groups to have more children?
A: Maybe Chinese lah, because now a lot of Chinese don’t want to get married, but Malay all along they give birth to a lot lor.
Q: Do you think the government is encouraging the Chinese more than Malays to have kids?
Riaz: Yes, because the Malays…
Hazlinda: No problem.
Riaz: Don’t have a problem. My relatives, very few of them have
three children or less. All of them at least three.
Young Adults’ Values, Beliefs and Concerns
Q1: What do you aim to do?
a. to be rich and lead a lifestyle I desire
b. to set up a family
c, to help/take care of the elderly
d. to contribute to the growth of the society
Q2: Do you think marriage is a key to happiness?
Singles’ Attitudes towards Courtship and Marriage
Q3: What are your life goals in the next 5 years?
a. financial security
b. success in career
c. owning a home
d. marriage or/and parenthood
A: For Q1, 11 chose the option a; 5 chose the option b; 1 chose the option c; 3 chose the option d. Side note: Upon asking question 1 verbally to 5 single relatives, their replies were: “number 1 lah, duh.”, “number 1 is a basic” and “not number 2 definitely”.
A: For Q2, 13 chose b; 7 chose a.
A: For Q3, 7 chose a; 6 chose b; 4 chose c; 3 chose d. When this question was asked verbally to 5 of my neighbours, their replies were: “First 3 all important lah. The last one don’t really need to worry.”
- Interview Questions asked via a survey form to a group of 20 single adults aged 21-30 (all Chinese).
For Primary School Students’ Relationships with Parents
Q1: Which sounds more terrible to you?
a. failing tests and examination
b. parents or grandparents dying
Q2: Would you rather play with your maid or your parents?
A: This was asked to a group of 10 primary school students.
For Q1: 6 chose a; 4 chose b.
For Q2: 5 chose a; 3 chose b; 2 chose both.
Although these interview questions are definitely not representative of the entire population, it fits in with the statistics as provided above.
Addressing the Solutions
-As said by an interviewee, “All cost are so high, subsidies are high as well as cost of living. All charges are so high that any subsidy given is like peanuts. I could see other countries offering free medical services, why not Singapore.”
-Whatever monetary solutions implemented misses the point about family relationships. As said by Mary (my math tutor), “It doesn’t just work that way. You can’t substitute your family with money. It’s like trying to encourage families to stay close to each other and visit each other and so on, by giving money to them.”
-For my elder cousins Mabel and Jenson, the grant connected money with values and this was quite problematic. “This relationship thing within the family cannot be measured by money… money doesn’t always get you what you want.”