Friday, 30 November 2012

S'poreans achieving more but are less happy: Survey

By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2012

SINGAPOREANS feel a stronger sense of achievement today than six years ago, but they are not any happier.

They are also enjoying life less, according to a survey by two dons from the National University of Singapore Business School.

The findings suggest that money does not necessarily buy happiness, with economic growth - measured by gross domestic product (GDP) - and happiness seeming to have moved in opposite directions since 2006.

"A reasonable level of GDP is necessary but it's not a sufficient condition for good standard of living," said Dr Siok Kuan Tambyah, who co-wrote a book on the survey findings with Associate Professor Tan Soo Jiuan.

Last year, they engaged a research firm to survey 1,500 Singaporeans on areas ranging from perceptions of their well-being to the values they find important and political rights.

The results showed Singaporeans' sense of achievement last year rose by 13.7 percentage points from the figure in 2006, when the professors did a similar study.

But happiness levels dipped by 3.5 percentage points while enjoyment levels slipped 1.3 points.

Dr Tambyah said this could be a sign of a phenomenon - seen in other developed countries as well - where happiness levels tend to stagnate after a point, even as national wealth continues to rise.

Said Prof Tan: "Very often, you are so busy paying off your mortgage; you can have a very nice home, but how much time do you spend in it to enjoy the landscaping?"

The widening income gap could be another factor as some citizens may feel overlooked, said Dr Tambyah.

Singaporeans aged 25 to 34 were the most unhappy. That is when people are stressed by their careers and the struggle to start a family without being able to afford a car or a house, said the professors.

And what makes Singaporeans happy? The survey holds some answers: ties with family and friends.

Prof Tan highlighted a paradox where respondents were more satisfied with life in general but less satisfied with life in Singapore than they were in 2001.

Generally, people were most satisfied with their relationships with their children and parents.

But in a separate question on life in Singapore, people were least satisfied about cost-of-living issues such as the affordability of cars, property and health care.

A "bright spot" is that "family relationships and social networks are holding up very well", said Dr Tambyah. "People feel it's so important to them."

The findings indicate a need for Singapore's economic goals to be balanced with social and communal goals, said the dons.

Dr Tambyah is glad questions on happiness, values and the kind of society Singaporeans want have been raised in the ongoing national conversation.

She said: "That's what contributes to a better society and nation, apart from GDP."

Middle-income Singaporeans feel the squeeze, survey finds

Six years ago they were happiest, but now they feel pressure of cost of living

By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2012

A SURVEY of Singaporeans' happiness and well-being has reinforced the squeeze that middle-income households say they face from cost of living pressures.

In a similar survey six years ago, this group was the happiest and enjoyed life the most, compared to those with lower or higher incomes.

But the latest study by Dr Siok Kuan Tambyah and Associate Professor Tan Soo Jiuan from the National University of Singapore Business School shows that the reverse is now true.

Last year, the middle-income group - those with household incomes from $2,001 to $5,000 per person - were the least happy and enjoyed life the least. The top spot went to high-income earners who took in more than $5,000.

"The middle class in Singapore is feeling a bit squeezed right now," said Dr Tambyah. "(Whereas) people with high income have the buffer to do things, to weather the storm a bit better."

The survey suggested that one cause of the middle-income group's gloom is the worry that they cannot afford much more beyond day-to-day necessities.

Over two-thirds of the 1,500 Singapore citizens surveyed felt they had enough money to buy the things they need. But a similar proportion felt they would not be able to pay for that little extra in life.

Close to two-thirds also said that they would not be able to afford a big-ticket purchase like a car, appliance, furniture or major home repair.

When these responses were broken down by income group, a noticeable gap emerged between the perceptions of the low- and middle-income groups and those of the high-income group.

Over 70 per cent of the first two groups said they did not have enough money for their wants, compared to about 60 per cent of the high-income group.

For those who felt unable to make major purchases, the gap was bigger: around 75 per cent versus 47 per cent.

Similarly, three quarters of the low and middle income respondents said they would not be able to make major purchases, compared to less than half of the high-income respondents.

Top of poll wish list: More govt effort to help the ageing
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2012

BREAD and butter issues such as transport and health care lead Singaporeans' wish list of areas of life where the Government can do more to improve their well-being.

But over and above these priorities are the needs of the ageing population, which top the list of 11 aspects of life that require more government effort.

These findings of a new survey "reflect the realities of the Singapore context", said Dr Siok Kuan Tambyah of the National University of Singapore Business School who evaluated the results with fellow don Tan Soo Jiuan.

The findings also match other results in the survey on Singaporeans' happiness and well-being which show that Singaporeans are least satisfied with the cost of living in Singapore.

But the issue of foreign workers is surprisingly at the bottom of the list. Still, almost two-thirds want the Government to restrict the inflow of these workers to protect the interests of locals.

This could be due to the Government's message since last May's General Election that it would be tightening the tap on foreign workers, said Associate Professor Tan.

The survey, however, did not specify what kind of foreign workforce should be restricted.

It also found that Singaporeans are generally more satisfied with their political rights now than six years ago.

Among six rights, only the right to take part in any kind of organisation dipped in satisfaction.

People are most satisfied with their right to vote but least with their right to criticise the Government and with freedom of speech.

But around half felt government officials paid little attention to what they think.

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