Thursday 28 May 2015

Work demands getting in the way of family time: 2013 Survey on Social Attitudes of Singaporeans

Family ties - good; family time - not so good
55% of respondents in survey say work demands eat into family life
By Priscilla Goy And Kok Xing Hui, The Straits Times, 27 May 2015

FAMILIES in Singapore are doing well but there are challenges and emerging trends that could be addressed, in particular by employers and policymakers.

These include fewer people being satisfied with their marriages, and more people, especially men, saying work gets in the way of their desire for more family time.

The trends were drawn from data collected in national surveys and compiled by academics.

Figures from the 2013 Survey on Social Attitudes of Singaporeans were shared for the first time last week by Institute of Policy Studies researcher Mathew Mathews, who compiled the data with National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan.

Dr Mathews spoke last Friday at a conference in which about 450 people discussed how to better support families.

The proportion of Singaporeans who were satisfied with their family life increased for those who were married or single, both by 6 percentage points, to 95 per cent and 90 per cent respectively, between 2009 and 2013.

But for people who were divorced, separated or widowed, the proportion fell from 83 per cent to 78 per cent over the same period.

While most people were more satisfied with family life, the trend reversed when asked about married life. About 92 per cent of married respondents said they were satisfied with their marriages in 2013, down by 4 percentage points from 2009.

However, Dr Mathews said not to read too much into the four-point drop in marriage satisfaction, which he called "fairly small" and "normal" for surveys.

The survey was conducted annually from 2001 to 2003, then every three to four years.

A nationally representative sample of 2,000 people aged 15 and above were polled in the latest survey, which was commissioned by the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

Dr Mathews said families in Singapore remain strong. "Singaporeans are well connected with their families and rely on them for a range of emotional, social and instrumental needs," he said.

The survey also polled Singaporeans on work-life balance.

Over half the respondents, or 55 per cent, in 2013 said their work demands ate into their family time more than they liked, up from 47 per cent in 2009.

This was odd, he said, as more businesses now offer work-life harmony schemes such as flexi-time work arrangements.

"What is probably happening is that people's aspirations for work-life harmony are increasing. I think the realisation is hitting more men...

"Perhaps, this is because women too are expecting more from their partners. With that, more men are reporting this interference between work and family life," said Dr Mathews.

Of the men, 58 per cent expressed this dissatisfaction in 2013, compared with 44 per cent in 2009.

Worrying about work-life balance is a luxury the low-income do not have, said Mrs Cindy Ng-Tay, assistant director of Covenant Family Service Centre.

She urged policymakers to examine how they can extend the same "privileges" to vulnerable groups, who find it hard to cut down on work hours.

"Do we put in barriers for them to achieve this balance? We should look at wage stagnation, and why we are not paying these workers enough," she said.

FaithActs senior social worker Michael Tiew said that for family structures to remain strong, couples should attend marriage preparation courses. "Couples who don't attend such courses won't know what issues they might face in their marriage. The fact that they are entering a new arena in life can contribute to future problems and issues," he said.

Mrs Claire Nazar, a member of the Families for Life council, agreed. She said: "Marriage preparation courses can help couples to learn to work as a team, and handle stress together, under the guidance of experienced marriage educators and counsellors."

Singaporeans value families: Survey
Singaporeans want to get married, have children and feel a strong sense of filial piety, a Survey on Social Attitudes of Singaporeans finds.
Channel NewsAsia, 26 May 2015

Singaporeans value families - they want to get married, have children and feel a strong sense of filial piety a survey found. However, statistics by the Social and Family Development Ministry (MSF) show a gap between what they desire and their reality.

About nine in 10 respondents, across all age groups in a Survey on Social Attitudes of Singaporeans, said they have a close-knit family.

The desire for married couples to be close with their parents is also strong. But sometimes the environment does not allow for it.

In the survey conducted by MSF, about 40 per cent of families with young children said they either live in the same flat, in a nearby block, or same estate as their parents. But 55 per cent said they actually preferred to do so.

Professor Yeung Wei-Jun Jean, director of the Centre for Family and Population Research, explained: "They desire to do so perhaps because of the proximity to take care of ... the parents or maybe grandparents to take care of younger children.

"But in reality, maybe some of the married couples or elderly parents already bought housing some time ago and it is not so easy to move to be closer to be in the same neighbourhood and housing. So maybe in terms of public policy, (it would be good) to look at how to make it easier for people who are living further apart but now because of the caring needs, they want to be living closer, and how to make it easier to move."


And perhaps because of the distance, inter-generational contact seems to be affected. In 2003, some 76.4 per cent of married respondents had said they see their elderly parents either daily or at least once a week. In 2013, the proportion dropped to 70.6 per cent.

In fact, 18.8 per cent of respondents said they either never or keep in touch with their elderly parents just a few times a year. 

Prof Yeung noted: "People have many demands and young couples are working long hours. We know from statistics that Singapore adults are working very long hours and children's schooling is very demanding."

The inter-generational bonding further weakens as the age gap widens - 71.4 per cent of those aged between 65 and 74 said they do not discuss their personal lives with their grandchildren; the figure goes up to 80 per cent among those aged 75 and above.

Dr Mathew Mathews, senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, said: "Values transmission is important, and we notice that less than 30 per cent of grandparents actually discuss their personal life with their grandchildren. That is really a loss because if more are able to do that, grandchildren would be more richer for being able to catch a lot more value, which may be important to their lives, going forward."


And while there is an increasing number of companies offering some form of flexi-work arrangement, 55 per cent of respondents still said their job keeps them from spending the amount of time they would like, with their family.

Dr Mathews said it may be because expectations are higher and roles are evolving.

He said: "What we have here now is that more men are expressing the fact that work and family life is in conflict. We notice that in the newer wave of the survey, and I think it speaks to the fact that increasingly, wives also want their men to step up and be involved in caregiving roles which previously more of them shied away from but today the expectation is higher on them."

Researchers also point to the growing number of single households saying that it is important to build on community networks and targeted support, especially for vulnerable groups, such as women who are divorced or widowed.


Meanwhile, the proportion of nuclear families was down 7 percentage points last year, from 56 per cent of resident households in 2000, according to data released at the Social Service Partners Conference 2015 on Tuesday (May 26).

The fall in the proportion of nuclear families, which are two-generation couple-based households either living with parents or with children, came despite its increase from 511,000 in 2000 to 592,000 in 2014. The proportion of 3G - households comprising three or more generations - families also dropped from 10 per cent to 9 per cent.

Conversely, one-person households saw an increase from 8 per cent in 2000 to 11 per cent in 2014. The proportion of married couples without co-residing children in households also rose from 11 per cent to 14 per cent over fourteen years. 


One key finding from the survey was that fewer divorced, separated or widowed respondents said they are satisfied with their family life, unlike the single or married cohorts.

The survey showed a 8 percentage point drop from 2003's 86 per cent to 2013's 78 per cent among the divorced, separated or widowed respondents agreeing that their family life is satisfying, compared to the 4 percentage point rise for the singles and married couples camps.

Despite the increase in married respondents who are happy with their family life, those who are satisfied with their marriage dropped from 96 per cent in 2009 to 92 per cent in 2013. The survey also showed that 94 per cent of males were satisfied with their marriage, compared to 89 per cent of females.

A stark difference was also observed between the number of wives who said they do more caregiving and household chores than the number of husbands who said they do. For example, 59 per cent of wives indicated themselves as spending more time doing household chores, compared to 3 per cent of husbands.

Similarly, mothers were revealed to spend almost double the time alone with their children during the weekend compared to the fathers.


In another survey, the number of single respondents who desire to get married increased from 74 per cent in 2004, to 85 per cent in 2012. As for parenthood aspirations, the Marriage and Parenthood Survey 2012 revealed that a 4 per cent increase in married respondents who intend to have two children was observed between 2007 and 2012.


Meanwhile, according to the National Youth Survey 2013 conducted by the National Youth Council, more than half of respondents across all age groups said they spend less than 10 hours with family members in a week.

A total of 55 per cent of respondents between the ages of 15 and 19 said they spend less than 10 hours, while the age-groups 20-24, 25-29 and 30-34 registered 62 per cent, 72 per cent and 74 per cent respectively.

Additionally, 63 per cent of youths surveyed by the National Youth Council in 2010 said they spend less than 10 hours with their parents or relatives in a week, out of which 4 per cent indicated no time is spent.

In comparison, 2013’s results showed 67 per cent of youths spending less than 10 hours, and 6 per cent spending zero hours with their parents and relatives in a week.

The changing Singapore family
By Mathew Mathews, Published The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2015

SINGAPORE is not alone in observing changes to its family structure. In the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, the proportion of one-person households and couples without children is expected to increase dramatically.

The 2011 Future Of Families To 2030 report predicts that around 40 per cent of all households will be one-person households.

These single-person household structures are already noticeable in Singapore, too.

Last year, single-person households constituted 11.2 per cent of all resident households, up from 8.2 per cent in 2000.

There has been a 4-percentage-point rise in households with married couples but no children over the same period, although it is not clear how many are indeed childless.

The transformations in Singapore's family structure have obvious consequences.

For instance, they have a direct impact on the availability of informal support networks for the elderly. This is significant, given the ageing population.

Since reliance on the state to provide for the welfare needs of the elderly is untenable in Singapore, the strength of the family institution to care for its members is crucial.

Indeed, based on several nationally representative surveys over the years, there is good reason to believe that families in Singapore are strong.

So there is hope that despite demographic changes, families will adapt appropriately to meet the welfare needs of their members.

The 2013 Ministry of Social and Family Development's Survey of Social Attitudes of Singaporeans (SAS), released last Tuesday, showed that over 90 per cent of respondents reported that they had close-knit families. This was across different age groups.

Close family ties also extend to relationships with relatives, with 80 per cent saying they maintained ties with relatives.

The positive sentiments Singaporeans have towards their immediate and extended families increase the propensity that they will be involved in one another's lives, especially when the need arises.

A second indicator of family strength is the presence of intergenerational contact.

Based on data from an HDB survey in 2013, there were high levels of contact between elderly residents and their married children - the great majority had contact at least once a month.

Only about 13 per cent of respondents had less contact than this.

Third, Singaporeans mobilise family resources to take care of emotional and instrumental needs.

In 2013, 95 per cent of participants in the SAS survey agreed with the statement: "I will give money to my family members if they are in need of financial support." Many Singaporeans also view family as a source of emotional support.

A total of 83 per centsaid that when they were troubled, they would talk to one or more of their family members.

Fourth, strong family values exist among the population.

When it comes to the value of filial obligation, Singaporeans across age groups endorsed the statement posed to them in the SAS survey: "Regardless of the qualities and faults of one's parents, one must always love and respect them."

Even among millennials - those below 30 years of age - who many say have abandoned formerly cherished values, 96 per cent affirmed this statement of unconditional love for one's parents.

Participants in the National Youth Survey in 2013 said maintaining a strong family relationship was a very important life goal.

This was the view of 71 per cent of the 2,843 people between 15 and 34 years surveyed, and was a larger proportion than those stating that having a successful career was very important.

Finally, Singaporeans generally eschew behaviours that jeopardise the building of strong family units.

Thus the great majority, as shown in a 2013 Institute of Policy Studies survey, were not in favour of extra-marital relationships or out-of-wedlock pregnancies, with 80.3 per cent and 72.5 per cent respectively disapproving of such behaviour.

Clearly, Singaporeans aspire to care for their families and are committed to the family institution.

But their ability to be a bedrock of support for family members will be affected by demographic and social trends.

Several things can be done to mitigate the challenges posed by these trends.

These include greater gender equality, with men participating more in caregiving, which will allow both men and women to share the burden.

The 2013 SAS survey shows that 51 per cent of women said they did more caregiving tasks than their husbands, while only 4 per cent of men said this.

To this end, workplaces must continue to find ways to foster family-friendly cultures where their employees can discharge both their duties to work and to their families.

While businesses are increasingly accepting that women are conflicted with their dual roles at work and home, there must be recognition that more men now want to be involved with their family.

On the policy front, public housing should continue to accommodate families who need to live in close proximity with one another.

And families in conflict need better assistance from social services, so that their relationships are preserved.

Accelerated changes in family structures need not be overly disconcerting to Singaporeans.

There are ways in which we can maintain the strength and resilience of family ties.

The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, National University of Singapore.

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