Surprise surprise, there’s a social class divide in Singapore

By December 29, 2017Current

TL;DR – Who would have thought?

Forget race. Forget religion. A survey by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) found that the social class divide among Singaporeans is more apparent than it seems.

Birds of a feather flock together

The survey found private housing dwellers tend to mix with people living in the same housing type, instead of those in public flats. On average, someone who stays in private housing has ties with 3.05 people who live in private housing and only 2.6 people who live in public housing. In comparison, on average, someone who stays in public housing has ties with 4.3 people who live in public housing and only 0.8 in private housing.

It’s not just housing. The survey also found that people who go to “elite” tend to socialise with those who went to similar schools. On average, someone who went to an elite school has ties with 2.7 people who also went to “elite” schools, and 2.1 people who went to a “non-elite” school. In comparison, on average, someone who went to a “non-elite” school has ties with 3.9 people who went to “non-elite” school and only 0.8 people who went to an “elite” school.

In short, the survey shows that there is a very strong tendency for people of the same social class to flock together. Dr Vincent Chua, one of the researchers behind the survey said:

“Even if you give people equal opportunities, they will still gravitate to hang out with their own kind. So we have to think of ways to disrupt this. People like to be with people like themselves”

That could lead to political instability

Erm… didn’t we all suspect that all along? But now we know. And now that we know, we need to do something about it. The social class divide could become a potential political flashpoint. In other countries, the social class divide has led to a “winners versus losers” and resulted in political instability.

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Dr Gillian Koh, one of the researchers behind the survey, said:

“It (the social class divide) has translated into politics where people have less trust in the established political institutions and political leaders because they think that it’s the establishment that has done them in”

Furthermore, the research also found that those with more diverse networks tend to have stronger feelings of national pride and trust towards people from other races, religions or countries. They think more in terms of the nation rather than just their own group.

As such, whether it’s to ensure a more stable society or develop a stronger national identity and pride, it is important that we work hard to bridge this social class divide. But it’s not going to be easy. This social class divide is likely a natural consequence of an economy that has developed as quickly as Singapore’s has. It is also likely to be a natural consequence of the type of meritocracy that we have pursued so fervently.

What can be done then?

Perhaps we should create more opportunities to beat the natural tendency of dividing. This can be done through volunteer work, sports or other activities that lay the foundation for creating opportunities for people of different backgrounds to meet, mix and become friends.

It won’t be easy but maybe we’ll get there eventually.


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Joey Wee

Author Joey Wee

I am nice, most of the time!

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