What Do Young Singaporeans Want For Our Future?

Personal finance represents just one of my core interests in life. Therefore, it’s no wonder that I have sometimes deviated from this blog’s primary function, with posts ranging from my views on why the government shouldn’t be dispensing more help to elderly landed property owners, to my take on policies like MediShield Life and changes in PSLE.

Generally, these posts do not generate as much traffic and discussion as those that are directly related to the topic of money. But I still write them because I enjoy doing it.  🙂

So I was pretty surprised a couple of weeks ago when a Young NTUC staff extended an invite to me for one of their events.

“When Young NTUC held Our Singapore Conversations (OSC) Labour Movement Series in 2013, many youths have raised comparisons between Singapore and countries that have performed well economically, and/or socially. Scandinavian countries and Switzerland were cited as some form of benchmark.

Since August, Young NTUC held 3 dialogue sessions with young working adults on the socio-economic situation of these countries. It was apparent that for sustainable development of Singapore, family must continue to serve as foundation to balance the economic and social demands, hence the topic for the final session.”

It’s heartening to know that many young working adults have been engaged by the labour movement recently. Afterall, there’s increasing evidence across the world that the young are not satisfied with the status quo in their own countries.

During the recent Scottish referendum, evidence suggests that Scotland would have left the United Kingdom if the votes by the elderly and retirees were left out. For the protests in Hong Kong, the majority showing up on the streets comprised of students and young adults who were unhappy with the “lack of democracy” on the island.

That’s why I guess it’s extremely useful to have such a platform to discuss the changes young Singaporeans would like to see in Singapore in the future. And I was pleased that Secretary-General of NTUC, Minister Lim Swee Say also attended this session to observe and wrap up the discussion.

I enjoyed this roundtable session and besides rehashing some of the key takeaways from the event, I have also summarised some of my views below:

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1. More emphasis on social objectives

This isn’t surprising. From the economic point of view, Singapore has enjoyed one of the highest living standards in the world for the past two decades. The average Singaporean has benefited from our competitive economy. Better and higher-paying jobs and the appreciation in value of their housing assets immediately come to mind.

Economically, as a society, there isn’t much to complain about. However, social woes are becoming more prominent.

It’s interesting to note that both rich and poor countries have their fair share of social issues to grapple with but my view is that it’s almost always better to address social objectives from a position of financial strength. Policies like the Pioneer Generation Package and the Baby Bonus Scheme isn’t cheap and it’s always easier to tax an additional dollar if the well-to-do are making $20,000 a month instead of $4,000.

And finally, as a society, is the majority ready for the trade-offs if we direct more attention to creating a less stressful, fairer and more inclusive society?

A fairer wage for cleaners and local blue-collar workers is likely going to result in at least a slight increase in costs. If working hours are reduced and productivity doesn’t keep up, wages would and should depress.

I definitely agree that we have reached a stage in our development to pay more attention to social issues. But I would just like to reiterate and emphasise that it’s impossible to have your cake and eat it all the time.

2. Building a more pro-family society

If a society is best measured by how it treats its women, I am pretty proud of our country.

In schools, girls get a fair and equal chance to excel. And at work, gender discrimination is at a minimum. The emphasis on gender equality has effectively doubled Singapore’s working population for the past half a century. But every solution eventually becomes a problem. (Err…Two is enough?)

As the focus becomes more centred on career success, women are choosing to get married later and it’s then biologically inevitable that they will have less children, even if they had wanted more.

I am 28 and I married my wife, who was my Junior College classmate. Out of the 23 (8 guys) of us in the class, there’s only about 7 or 8 of us that are married. Granted, there’s another 3 or 4 already making preparations for the big day. But that’s still barely 50%. And even for those that are married, only 1 has a child. Horrible statistics for the government, eh?

And interestingly, among the participants (who are more or less of marriageable and child-bearing age) of the roundtable, the majority are not married and also obviously, without children.

What I am saying is that there will almost definitely be less families and smaller families in the future. And it’s largely a personal and lifestyle choice for many.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew famously remarked that he would increase the Baby Bonus to $75,000 if he was in power just to prove that the fertility problem isn’t about monetary concerns anymore. I tend to agree since I am sure if I didn’t want children, that amount is unlikely to alter my decision.

Granted, the society at large isn’t helping. Crying babies in prams on the trains attract irks by many passengers and most taxis generally accommodate 4 passengers, an inconvenience for large families. Infant care isn’t cheap by most standards and not every working couple would like to or can afford foreign domestic help.

Therefore, even though it’s unlikely we can boost the fertility rate to replacement levels, I agree that improvements can be made to help those who want to have children but are somehow discouraged by monetary or societal factors. But again, there’s trade-offs.

With more and more singles, many married couples forget that their peers do not get the opportunity to buy a subsidised BTO from the government. (Yeah, even a subsidised BTO isn’t enough to entice singles to get married these days.) The government is also finding it difficult to hold the line and recently allowed singles above 35 to purchase 2-room BTOs.

If we decide to pour more money to encourage the formation of families and to help families, you could argue that it could be some form of an indirect tax for singles. And I believe singles wouldn’t be a minority in the country a couple of decades’ time.

As a married man and part of a couple who plans to have kids, I guess I am shooting my own foot. However, I am realistic enough to not expect the society to bend over backwards to help me in this very personal choice.

Unfortunately, pro-family policies tend to go against efficiency. And sometimes, as individuals, we can do more to help our own situation. It’s really about the priorities we set for ourselves. Lower expectations and less branded stuff? Less time spent on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram? Stronger efforts to become better spouses and parents?

One of the main reasons for establishing our ultimate goal is for the both of us to be able to spend more time with our future children. And that entails some “prioritisation” on our part to be able to accumulate a comfortable stash to “buy time” off work in the future.

A 15 hour work week in your thirties might appear a heresy but I guess if I really I want it, who other than me to make that possible? (Not bad, I manage to bring the topic back to personal finance. =p)

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    13 thoughts on “What Do Young Singaporeans Want For Our Future?

    1. bb

      know what? i actually don’t think you’ve drifted far. choice of lifestyle, what we want for our future, policies (that shape the way the society functions, and hence, the people)…. will all affect us and our finances, no? ^^

      personally, i think the true test is… if we really can find some means of giving the people eveything on the’need to have’ and even the ‘wish to have’, would people really start having children?

      i actually think not. (just like what you’d cited in your blog post about how senior lee once said he’d up the baby bonus to $75K if he could, just to prove that babies ain’t really just a monetary concern.

      i think with every decision, every choice comes with some changes to status quo. some people call it sacrifices. but we can always choose to see the good along with the bad. i like to believe that there’ll be new and different kinds of joy as there will often be inconvenience too.

      and i so feel you about the singles part! already some singles are leaving ‘left out’ in terms of company HR policies, in that there’re longer and longer maternity leave, childcare leave…. and companies tend to be more understanding when mothers can’t do much OT since they have to be home for the kids, and lots of last minute, urgent work tends to fall upon the singles’ shoulders.

      but like you’d rightly pointed out, there’re bound to be more and more people choosing to be single, and woooo…. lots of associated problems that come along with it, including how do we support an aging population (and haiz, some people are still protesting about the return of CPF, and some people don’t understand why the labour movement is encouraging companies to raise the re-employment age…)

      sorrrrrry, i rambled. but seriously, love the sharing and also love reading your thoughts. thanks!

      1. My 15 HWW Post author

        Hi bb,

        Yup, I guess one of the points I wanted to bring across is that when we “bend over backwards” towards people with families, are we sort of “penalising” singles?

        As a married man, I find it easier to “excuse” myself from some CCAs in my previous job but some of my unmarried peers are sort of pressured to lead them. And like what you mentioned, singles have to take up their co-workers’ workload when they go on maternity or paternity leave.

        I think there needs to be some form of individual responsibility to go along with societal and government help for those with young children. =)

    2. Small-Time Investor.

      Hi 15hr

      Regards to the baby in prams i am fine , but definitely not with kids who are 3yrs and above in the prams which i noticed . These kids ought to learn how to stand or walk without the prams ( Parents need to educate on this ).All these added unnecessary space wastage to crowded train transport .

      I at least don’t see such things during my time or earlier.

      With regards to technology improving , yes it is . But people are also getting more ignorant about the things around them or what is happening around the world.

      Ask them what is the latest gadget out in town or which cafe to go , or any kpop/Celebrities gossips? They have no problem answering you. Ask them what are your thoughts about certain scheme or some world issues ? They either can’t bother to answer ,cannot answer or giving misinformation.

      People care too much on things that have no direct impact on them , while care too less on things that will affect them.

      1. My 15 HWW Post author

        Hi Small-Time Investor,

        I have a nephew who is no longer an infant and wife and I can’t understand why he always insists on prams.

        You have quite a scathing view of the youths today. Are we considered the “strawberry generation” to you? =p

        No doubt I feel that the majority of Singaporeans do need to be more concerned about current affairs and world issues but I do think more and more of us are less politically apathetic these days, especially compared to the older generation. Or that’s what I see on Facebook. =)

          1. Small-Time Investor.

            Hi bb

            Precisely like what the article mentioned.

            Almost anything could be found on the internet now and what’s more on a mobile. Got time to surf facebook , twitter , 9gag , instagram. No time to a search on news through internet .

          2. My 15 HWW Post author

            Hi bb,

            Thanks for alerting me to new and good reads. Enjoyed it and somewhat aligned with her views.

        1. Small-Time Investor.

          Hi 15hr

          I am 28 years old this year. I guess we are around the same age ?

          The prams sellers must be earning good money these days and you could see the prams are getting bigger in size and wheels with different designs compared to last .

          I guess every generation do have views on ” strawberry generation ” .

          Be it 50s on 60s , 60s on 70s , 70s on 80s and so on .

          These are some observations that i made around the people and myself .

          1. My 15 HWW Post author

            Hi Small-Time Investor,

            My bad. Probably got confused with another blogger. =p

            Prams are becoming lifestyle items instead of “commodities”, so there’s a huge range to choose from now compared to the time when we were babies? =)

            I guess your observation is pretty spot on and people like us being concerned enough with personal finance/current affairs to blog about it are rare.

    3. Jared Seah

      Hello 15 HWW,

      I was happily reading until I came to your point on Singles and Married couples.

      Don’t frighten me!

      If singles become the majority in Singapore, I think I’ll have to start my journey of city hopping again…

      Now that’s a bit rich coming from a single myself?

      In Scandinavia, where you pay 40-50% in taxes and around 20% in GST, having children is the way to “get back” what you have contributed – whether married or not.

      Free child care, free education, free medical mah!

      Those with no children – again whether married or single – are subsidising those that have lots of babies.

      Cohabitation is very popular there. So the traditional definition of single or married can be very grey…

      It’s not an easy challenge for big daddy in Singapore.

      First we need young people to get married. (I’m more for cohabitation but that’s me!)

      Then we need married couples to have children; not become Dinkies.

      Even if have children, we want more than 1 child per couple…. 2 at least. 3 or more children even better!

      Maybe we should give medals for going beyond the call of national duty for parents with 3 or more child?

      1. My 15 HWW Post author

        Hi SMOL,

        Instead of going so far (raising taxes heavily) to entice people to have babies, I guess the government feels that the easier way is through immigration.

        Which is the lesser poison? *Shrugs*

    4. Mark

      I believe the problem is not with those that are married. my group of friends, those that are married, 80% is having kids…..

      but the problem is there are 40% of my friends not married. therefore those married couple got to have 3 kids and above to cover for those that are not married.

      i am 31 by the way.

      1. My 15 HWW Post author

        Hi Mark,

        I think your analysis is pretty spot on. Just curious, where do you fall under? =)

        There’s a few layers to the problem. More people are staying single, more married couples are not having kids and those that are having kids tend to stop at 1 or even 2.

        I have to admit I would struggle to come up with a viable solution if I were the policymaker.