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Marriage? Not important, say Singapore youths

The Middle Ground logo The Middle Ground 15/7/2017 Suhaile Md

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by Suhaile Md

THE results of the 2016 National Youth Survey (NYS) would dismay Ms Grace Fu, Minister in charge of Marriage and Parenthood policies: Getting married and having kids are just not a priority for most youths.

Only 36 per cent of resident youths (15 to 34-year-olds) consider getting married as a “very important life goal”. This is lower than the 39 per cent who felt the same in 2013. As for having children, only 35 per cent consider it as very important, compared to 37 per cent in 2013 when the survey was last conducted. These results were released yesterday (July 14) by the National Youth Council (NYC).

That however, does not mean that young Singaporeans do not consider family important, said National University of Singapore sociologist Dr Ho Kong Chong, an academic collaborator for the survey since 2005. He noted that strong familial ties have consistently been “very important” to over 70 per cent of youths since 2010.

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So were they thinking about their parents and siblings when they were asked the question, without giving thought to setting up their own family? Or have attitudes towards marriage itself changed?

Asked “which statement best describes” their beliefs towards marriage, 30 per cent felt that “one should marry”, compared to 47 per cent in 2010 – a 17 percentage point drop.

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Image is a screenshot of a slide from Ms Jeanette Chen’s presentation on key findings from the NYS. Ms Chen is the head of research at NYC.

As for the proportion of youths who think it’s “not necessary to marry”? It rose from 17 per cent to 31 per cent between 2010 and 2016.

Dr Ho said: “I think the family ten years from now will be very different, the kinds of family relationships will be quite different with these kinds of attitudes… I can’t say that this is a trend… but it’s likely to be more open.”

The survey polled 3,531 people on their life goals. Despite constant campaigns and reproduction incentives, youths aren’t moved over their priorities in life. Getting married and having children are still ranked 8th and 9th respectively in both 2016 and 2013. Both were placed higher by the 2010 cohort, at 5th and 6th respectively as well.

To Dr Ho, it’s clear that the family unit “continues to be more important” as an “anchor” for youth, although the “relationships” that form the family unit may be undergoing change, he said. These changes are not about younger Singaporeans “doing something right or wrong”, rather “it’s about social conditions changing that affects how young people think”.

Added Dr Ho: “I think they’re all trying to do the right thing… under different circumstances.”

NYC recommended that we speak to Ms Ng Jing Rou, a 22-year-old undergraduate, to get a sense of how some youths think about family.

Ms Ng said that familial ties are important but marriage is a “not a necessity” for herself. Rather, “stability” is. The 22-year-old undergraduate is more concerned about finding a job that aligns with her values and aspirations in the non-governmental sector than she is about dating. If she “happens to meet someone”, then sure, she would consider it.

She is clearer however, about wanting a child. Adoption would be one of the options she would consider in the future if she does not get married.

Said Ms Ng: “It’s a different idea of what makes a family… For me I don’t necessarily have to get married to form a family.”

“In fact my sister, who is eight years older than I… We are pretty sure that we’re going get our own apartment in the future. Both of us really like kids, similarly we don’t see marriage as a necessity. So if the circumstances allow for it, then I can foresee us with having little people in the house.”

Ms Jeanette Chen, head of research at NYC, said youth were asked in focus group discussions on why they thought the perceptions towards marriage were changing.

She said that the youth “talked about how they saw their friends getting divorced, for example. Or their parents relationships may be not as ideal.” There were also those who prioritised career and further education ahead of marriage, she added.

Ms Nadia Yeo, another NYC recommendation, said that if done right, “I believe the institution of marriage has innate values” like financial stability and companionship. Interestingly, in her school days she was “very clear” that she did not want to get married and “wanted to be a strong independent woman”.

This sentiment was partly driven in response to adult relatives telling her that a girl must get married – something “the little rebel” in her could not accept.

But growing up, a shift in her mindset occurred when she saw the “intrinsic” value of marriage, a union of partners who support each other, as opposed to a role a woman has to fulfil. The 30-year-old graduate student has been married for four years and has an eight-month old daughter.

The youth survey also looked at many other issues like how they spend their time online, whether they have close friends of other races, and how they feel about Singapore among other things.

A total of 3,531 youths between the ages of 15 and 34 were randomly selected surveyed from late October to end December last year. They were weighted according to the national proportions for age group, gender, and ethnicity. The full survey results as well as methodology will be released later this year.

Featured Image by Flickr user Andrew Abogado.

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