Thursday 24 October 2019

Singaporeans in their 40s today are better educated, earn more than past cohorts: Ministry of Finance report on socio-economic outcomes of Singaporeans born between 1940 - 1979

But MOF report shows they have less family support as fewer are married and families are smaller
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 23 Oct 2019

Singaporeans today are generally better educated, more able to find jobs and earn more, and live longer, according to a study by the Ministry of Finance (MOF).

The study looked at Singaporeans in their 40s today, and compared them with earlier cohorts.

It found that those in their 40s also have less family support, as fewer of them are married and families are smaller, the report published yesterday showed.

And while home ownership has risen over time, it showed that the figures for those in their 40s are slightly behind that of those in their 50s and 60s.

The study, which draws on official data, tracks the status of four generations of Singaporeans when they were in their 40s.

It shows that 44 per cent of those born in the 1970s have university degrees, compared with 21 per cent of those born in the 1960s, and 7 per cent of those born in the 1940s.

The median real gross monthly income of those in their 40s is twice that of those in their 60s, when that cohort was still in their 40s.

And the median real balance in their Central Provident Fund (CPF) Ordinary and Special accounts is three times that of those in their 60s at the same age, after accounting for inflation.

Singaporeans in their 20s and 30s are not included in the report as outcomes like retirement savings and health are better observed later on in life, said MOF.


The report highlighted that 79 per cent of Singaporeans in their 40s have post-secondary qualifications, compared with 49 cent of those in their 50s and 22 per cent of those in their 70s.

One factor is that those born in the 1940s grew up in a fragmented schooling landscape with uneven quality organised by different community groups. While vocational schools expanded in the 1960s and 1970s, it was not until the 1980s that a robust national curriculum was developed.

Those in their 40s benefited from major shifts in the education system focusing on technological literacy and continuing skills development - a trend set to continue with younger Singaporeans.

The report added: "Today, students benefit from well-resourced schools and a large degree of flexibility... where they can choose from multiple pathways based on their strengths and talents."

Due to an increase in the female participation rate, more are now active in the workforce. While the total labour force participation rate rose by 5 percentage points between 2009 and last year, women's participation jumped by more than 10 points during the same period.

Singaporeans in their 40s are also earning more. At $5,900, the median real gross monthly income including employer CPF contributions of all full-time workers is about twice that of older cohorts when they were at the same age. The median is the midway point in the population. This applies even to the bottom 20 per cent of income earners, who earn $3,000 or less a month - twice as much as those in their 60s, when they were in their 40s.

Overall, when shorn of inflation's effects, the median CPF account balance of those in their 40s is three times that of those in their 60s, when that cohort was still in their 40s.


Some 82 per cent of citizens in their 40s own at least one property.

This is 3 percentage points to 5 percentage points lower than those in their 50s and 60s, but higher than the 76 per cent ownership rate of those in their 70s.

Someone in his 40s who lives with his parents in a parent-owned home would not be considered as a property owner unless he has another property elsewhere.

"As (those in) this generation are only in their 40s, they still have many opportunities to purchase a residential property, especially given their higher CPF balances," said an MOF spokesman. "They also have more years to remain in the workforce and earn more and save more."

The report stated that most Housing Board dwellers have leases that are long enough to cover them until at least age 95. They have an asset that can be monetised if necessary to supplement their retirement needs, for example, by right-sizing.


Singaporeans are healthier and living longer too. At age 45, those in their 40s can expect to live another 41 years, compared with an average of 37 years for older cohorts.

Adjusting for the amount of time lived in less-than-perfect health, each cohort can still expect to live for one to three more years in good health, compared with each previous older cohort.

However, subsequent generations of Singaporeans may have to get used to receiving less support from their immediate family. This is due to lower marriage rates and smaller family sizes, said the report.

The percentage of "ever-married" women - those who are married, widowed, divorced or separated - has declined steadily from a high of 92 per cent among those in their 70s to 82 per cent of women in their 40s.

The number of children per woman dipped to 1.8 last year, compared with between two and 2.5 children for older cohorts.

The report acknowledged that with reduced family support, the Government will have to work with community partners to support those who need additional assistance, and adapt its policies in line with a maturing economy and society.

Observers flag need to be more self-reliant as family support declines
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 23 Oct 2019

Since Independence 54 years ago, the lives of successive generations of Singaporeans have improved in terms of employment, income, savings, health and life expectancy.

These are the key findings of a Ministry of Finance report released yesterday, which tracks the socio-economic outcomes of Singaporeans born from 1940 to 1949, and in each of the three decades after that.

Singapore Management University (SMU) Associate Professor Eugene Tan, a former Nominated MP, said that while the report takes a broad-brush approach, the outcomes - especially for those born in the 1960s and 1970s, who are in their 50s and 40s today - reflect sound government policies in education, healthcare, employment and asset-building.

As a result, both age cohorts have seen the greatest spike in post-secondary school qualifications when compared with those born in the 1940s, who are the youngest members of the Pioneer Generation.

Significant progress has also been made in terms of real monthly income, especially for the 20th percentile of workers in their 40s and 50s.

National University of Singapore economist and co-director of the Next Age Institute, Associate Professor Chia Ngee Choon, said the slew of measures to help low-wage workers since 2007, in particular the Workfare Income Supplement scheme, have also helped build up their Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings.

She noted that during Budget 2011, then Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said the aim is to raise incomes by 30 per cent in real terms over this decade. This goal has been achieved for both the 20th percentile and median income workers across three different generations - those in their 40s, 50s and 60s today - with much of the growth taking place for those in their 40s and 50s, she added.

Indeed, Singaporeans in their 40s and 50s have generally benefited from higher salaries, and hence more CPF savings, than their parents' generation.

For instance, the median CPF balance of those in their 40s is more than half the Full Retirement Sum of $176,000 for those turning 55.

"As long as they continue to work and have annual wage increases, together with the effects of compounding interest, they will likely have enough retirement savings to finance a basic retirement," said Prof Chia.

But the bottom 20 per cent who are in their 50s and 60s could struggle to meet the CPF Retirement Sum, observers noted. When they were in their 40s, they had CPF account balances of $9,700 and $5,200 or less, respectively - a low base from which to accumulate more in their Ordinary and Special accounts before they retire.

SMU's Professor Emeritus Augustine Tan, who was a People's Action Party MP from 1970 to 1991, said the figures merit careful scrutiny. Those in their 60s and 70s could face serious retirement adequacy issues and growing needs in healthcare and nursing support, he said.

"Some, perhaps many, of the aged who have chronic healthcare issues have financial problems, even with subsidised clinics and medication," he added.

One thing is clear - support from the immediate family will decline in the coming years, observers added.

This means that Singaporeans must be more self-reliant, take ownership of their own retirement and have sufficient savings to see them through those years.

With more singles and smaller households, the idea that family is the first port of call when individuals fall on hard times may become less valid, said Prof Eugene Tan.

Social and economic policies will have to factor in this growing reality.

Institute of Policy Studies deputy director for research Gillian Koh said this is why the Government has paid far more attention over the past decade to supporting Singaporeans as they enter old age.

"The question then is - what is enough and how do we, as a nation, pay for it?" said Dr Koh.

"Succeeding cohorts have benefited from the work and support of the older cohorts, so we need a serious national conversation about striking the right balance in intergenerational equity of which generation has to help which, how and how much."

From Third World to First: Do Singaporeans in their 40s today have it better?
Each generation of Singaporeans in their 40s has it better than the previous one, but red flags may be emerging over home ownership and marriage rates, a Ministry of Finance report shows. Insight takes a look.
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 27 Oct 2019

It has often been pointed out that Singapore progressed from Third World to First in a single generation - but how have things really stacked up in terms of progress for the lives of successive generations of Singaporeans?

Last week, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) released a report that looks at this very issue. It tracks the status of four generations of Singaporeans in their 40s.

The study on socio-economic outcomes of Singaporeans born from 1940 to 1979 found much to celebrate, with the lives of Singaporeans improving in each generation.

Today, for example, those in their 40s are more educated, better able to find jobs, earn more, save more, and live longer compared with older age groups.

In 2015, the last time any report of its kind was published, the MOF studied incomes of those born from 1978 to 1982 (aged 37-41 this year).

It concluded that while inter-generational income mobility in Singapore remained high, it would be increasingly difficult to sustain this as the country's pace of development slowed.

The latest MOF report also shows generational progress but is not linked to that study, and is across a larger set of socio-economic outcomes.

It split Singaporeans into four age groups of 10 years each: those born between 1940 and 1949 (the youngest 10 cohorts in the Pioneer Generation); 1950-1959 (Merdeka Generation); 1960-1969 (including some baby boomers); and 1970-1979 (now in their 40s).

The report affirms the national belief that one can have a fair chance in life, regardless of who one's parents are.

However, it threw up some twists: Those in their 40s today are less likely to marry and have children than older age groups, and compared to previous home-purchasing cohorts, are less likely to own a property.

As well, while each generation has benefited from the Singapore success story, with their quality of life improving each round, questions arise on what this means for Singapore's poorest, and whether the progress can be sustained.


Singapore's success in public housing has shown remarkable legs over three generations. A total of 21,000 Housing Board flats were built within three years of the HDB's inception in 1960, and today, 76 per cent of those born as far back as the 1940s own at least one residential property.

But compared with the two generations before them, fewer Singaporeans in their 40s today are in this position - 5 percentage points lower than those in their 50s, and 3 percentage points lower than those in their 60s.

The reasons for the dip are unclear. Some observers, like National University of Singapore (NUS) sociology professor Tan Ern Ser, think some who earn below the median income may not be able to afford a flat. Others say this group was affected by the tighter HDB supply situation in the 2000s, when it was entering its peak years of household formation.

Others may be staying with their parents, or experiencing downward mobility as they move from the flats they have sold into rental flats. Says Singapore Management University (SMU) law don Eugene Tan: "We need to drill down further to determine why this is so, and how they maintain a roof over their heads."


During Budget 2011, then Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said the aim was to raise incomes by 30 per cent in real terms over this decade, including those at the lower end of the income ladder.

To achieve this increase, the annualised growth rate in real income each year needs to be 2.66 per cent, says National University of Singapore (NUS) economist and co-director of the Next Age Institute, Associate Professor Chia Ngee Choon.

This target has been exceeded by younger cohorts. Comparing the real income growth of the 20th percentile of workers, those from Gen 3 (in their 50s) to Gen 4 (40s) have much faster annualised growth rate of 5.2 per cent compared with 2.4 per cent for those from Gen 2 (60s) to Gen 3 (50s). For Central Provident Fund (CPF) balances, the bottom 20 per cent in their 40s have seen a faster growth rate of 16.3 per cent compared with those at age 40 in the preceding generation.

Prof Chia attributes this to targeted efforts to help low-wage workers since 2007, especially the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) scheme which has also helped build up CPF savings. "This reflects the Government's policies designed not only to lift workers' incomes, but also to enhance retirement savings through the WIS," she says.

However, while earning power is the more common gauge due to availability of data, wealth - which takes into account bequests, asset accumulation and the capital market - plays a big part, too.

According to Credit Suisse's 2019 Global Wealth Report, Singapore's mean wealth per adult is US$297,873 (S$406,000). The richest 1 per cent of adults in Singapore have a 32 per cent share of total wealth.

"Absolute mobility has risen overall, and that's not surprising. Otherwise, how then did we get to become more of an affluent, middle class society?" says NUS' Prof Tan.

But recent debates on social mobility are about relative mobility, and whether class origin determines class destination, he adds. "I could have zero income and be immensely rich, or very high income, with a high number of dependants, and barely survive."

Low mobility, real or perceived, can lower a person's aspirations, hopes, and ambitions for the future, according to the World Bank's Fair Progress report.

SMU's Prof Eugene Tan agrees that wealth transfers from one generation to the next can have a disproportionate effect on socio-economic outcomes across cohorts. He says future reports should track those born between 1980 and 1989, even if their incomes and careers have not stabilised.

What the report makes clear is that immediate family support will decline in the coming years, as family sizes shrink and fewer people marry. The idea that one can turn to one's family members as the first resort for money or physical help, may become less valid.

The oldest and poorest Singaporeans could face particular difficulty. Institute of Policy Studies deputy director for research Gillian Koh says that while it is important to continue to reinforce social support within the family, such safety nets may have to be drawn far wider than one's own children.


Observers say the bottom 20 per cent in their 50s and 60s could struggle to meet the CPF Retirement Sum.

When they were in their 40s, these two groups had CPF account balances of $9,700 and $5,200 or less, respectively - a very low base from which to accumulate more in their Ordinary and Special accounts. Even if they were to continue working till age 62, this group may not have enough to retire. Some may not even be able to receive the basic annuity of less than $800 a month.

For those who turn 55 this year, the Full Retirement Sum is $176,000. If they own a property with remaining lease that can last them to at least 95 years old, they can choose to set aside the lower Basic Retirement Sum of $88,000 and withdraw above that.

For some, their financial woes are compounded by poor health.

"Many of the aged who have chronic healthcare issues have financial problems, even with subsidised clinics and medication. I know cases where aged patients have to fork out $400 or more for medication and cannot afford it," says SMU Professor Emeritus Augustine Tan, who was a People's Action Party MP from 1970 to 1991.

Prof Eugene Tan says there is an urgent need to look at retirement adequacy for the older cohorts, and to continually refresh the CPF scheme to maintain its relevance and effectiveness.

On the other hand, those in the 20th percentile who are now in their 40s have achieved over a fifth of the Full Retirement Sum. They stand a good chance of being able to finance their retirement, as long as they continue to work and enjoy the effects of compounding interest in their accounts.


Almost half of those born in the 1970s have a university degree, more than double the previous generation. Four out of five went beyond secondary school, compared with only one in five of those born in the 1940s.

Looking at the broad indicators like rising income and higher labour force participation rate, there is no discernible erosion in the graduate premium for those in their 40s, says Institute of Policy Studies Senior Research Fellow Christopher Gee.

Greater educational attainment enables individuals to take on higher-skilled jobs and enjoy higher earnings, says Dr Kelvin Seah, a lecturer at the NUS Department. It can also reduce the country's reliance on foreign talent, says National Institute of Education Associate Professor Jason Tan, who notes that in the past, highly skilled positions could not be filled because earlier generations had only secondary school education.

But the quality of their degrees and how Singaporeans maintain their employability and relevance bear closer scrutiny, say observers, especially when many obtain external degrees from private institutions and abroad.

Professor Emeritus Augustine Tan cautions against producing too many graduates in "soft" subjects such as social sciences, which could see them ending up in the gig economy.

"Already, there are graduates driving taxis, becoming hawkers and nurses after losing their high-paying jobs," he says. "Re-training workers whose skills have become obsolete represents a challenge. While we need some good ones, I don't believe we want Singapore to become a nation of cooks and bakers."

While it is tempting to think of education in terms of dollars and cents, NUS' Dr Seah argues that it has important spillover effects on society.

"One could argue that increase in hygiene among younger cohorts - we don't see them openly spitting, defecating or littering - and the fact that we are seeing less street crime today, is partly due to them becoming more educated over time," he says.

Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies Chew Soon Beng cites data from the United States showing that degree holders experience much higher cumulative change in their earnings.

He says it is continual learning, and not what one learns from the first degree, that matters in the long run: "Once you have a degree, you find the need to continue to learn. You know how to learn."


The MOF report provides a good overview of generational change, and is not meant to examine the nuances of how each group arrived at the outcomes, say observers.

But for a study this broad - and with publicly available, time-based and comparative studies so scarce - it is hard to draw firm conclusions on the relationship between each of the outcomes.

For example, why has home ownership fallen, when salaries and savings have gone up? Are more people renting, and if so, what does this mean for housing policies and the size and quality of rental housing stock? Greater flexibility in eligibility criteria under the Public Rental Scheme, for instance, has been a step in the right direction.

For those nearing the end of their lives who face a double whammy of financial and health issues, can healthcare and long-term care be extended further at minimal cost?

Initiatives like the WIS scheme have made a real difference. But is the quantum of support enough to ensure that the lowest socio-economic tier of Singaporeans can live - never mind retire - with dignity?

Can the right quantum even be determined, when one man's dignity is another man's shame? When researchers Ng Kok Hoe and Teo You Yenn released their findings earlier this year that a person above 65 years old needs $1,379 a month to meet basic needs, they sparked a debate on whether this is too much or too little.

But without a widely understood benchmark for these basic needs or targets to aspire to, or a more harmonised way of collecting, studying and comparing inequality data, the public may be caught in a circular and needlessly divisive debate.

Finally, how can Singaporeans build a stronger and more caring society, and rally around those who are destitute with no family to lean on?

As Prof Eugene Tan notes, "it is important for any society to zero in, not only on the successes, but to also reach out and help those to whom the socio-economic outcomes do not accrue".

Only then will these socio-economic outcomes remain healthy for future generations of Singaporeans.

Born in the 40s: Times were hard, and being able to study was a big deal
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 27 Oct 2019

Seventy-one-year-old James Seah, who grew up in Bukit Ho Swee, vividly remembers the day his house burned to the ground in the famous squatter settlement blaze that claimed four lives and left thousands homeless.

The year was 1961. It was Hari Raya Haji and he was 13 years old. He was on his way home when he saw that a fire had broken out among the area's tightly clustered zinc and attap houses.

But his mother, who had lived through the Japanese Occupation, was always prepared for an emergency. Taking from their home a bundle of documents wrapped in a sarong, the family fled.

The blaze eventually consumed his childhood home as well as his first primary school, where Chinese was the medium of instruction.

Mr Seah spent several months in a relief centre before moving to a one-room emergency housing flat with a communal toilet, built by the Housing Board. All this happened months before he took the Primary School Leaving Examination.

"I was reading my books in the relief centre, saying to myself: 'Die, my exam is coming'," recalls Mr Seah.

The trajectory of his life is not unusual for those of his generation.

According to the Finance Ministry's report, he and his peers would have grown up in a "fragmented school landscape".

Few would go on to achieve more than secondary education.

Even now, a smaller proportion of people from that cohort own their own homes compared with those younger than them. Marriage rates in this group are also the highest.

Mr Seah says that he started work after completing his Cambridge School Certificate, the precursor to today's O-level examinations.

His first job was doing clerical work for the Health Ministry. He later went on to carve out a career for himself at the HDB, working his way up from cashier to financial supervisor over the course of 28 years.

Along the way, he got married, moved into a four-room flat in Clementi, and had two children.

"It's very common for young people to attend university these days," Mr Seah says. "In my time, studying until Secondary 4 was already a very big deal."

He adds that his former job as a cashier - collecting money from those applying for flats and bringing the cash to the bank - is now virtually obsolete as everything has been computerised.

Mr Seah, who now works as a dishwasher, feels that he grew up alongside the country. He is by and large happy with the progress that has been made, although he feels that hawker food is getting expensive and children's lives, less carefree.

"In the past, you could have lunch for 50 cents," he recalls. "Now, you need at least $5."

Parents also put a lot of pressure on their children to do well in school, he adds.

When asked if he has plans to retire soon, he replies: "I think it's important to keep myself active. And this way, I can earn some pocket money."

Born in the 50s: Hunger to upskill stood her in good stead
By Adrian Lim, Political Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 27 Oct 2019

As the eldest of six children, Ms Serena Seah was expected to find a job after completing her A levels and graduating from Raffles Girls' School in 1974. Though she secured a place in the arts and social sciences programme at the then Nanyang University, she abided by her parents' wishes to enter the workforce instead. "My parents were not too well off. I remember my mother saying that my other siblings needed to study, too", said Ms Seah, 63.

Determined to upskill, however, she took a local two-year part-time course while working and acquired a diploma in marketing, accredited by the United Kingdom's Institute of Marketing in 1986, at age 30. "It was my desire to improve myself and gain something," says Ms Seah, who works in the sales industry.

In the cohort of Singaporeans in their 60s, Ms Seah is a minority in the level of educational attainment, according to the Ministry of Finance's (MOF) report released last week. The study looked at Singaporeans in their 40s today and in comparing them with earlier cohorts, found younger groups to be generally better educated, more able to find jobs, earning more and having better life expectancy. For those in their 60s, like Ms Seah, around 18 per cent progressed beyond post-secondary education, attaining a diploma or profession certification, or making it to university. In comparison, about 35 per cent of Singaporeans in their 50s have a diploma, professional or university education. For those in their 40s, it is 66 per cent.

The MOF said the improvements in educational attainment were "largely the result of enhanced access, greater affordability, and improvements in the quality of education, which also afforded more pathways and options".

For Ms Seah, who has also worked in the banking, hotel and exhibition sectors, her diploma equipped her with the skills and know-how to go into the direct sales business in her late 30s. She first got into a trading business, helping to set up a distribution channel for China-made products. She then worked as a sales manager for a firm specialising in paper products for industrial cleaning.

But in her late 40s, the business was not doing well and she was asked to resign. The resilient Ms Seah, however, found a new partner in the same sector and till today, works on a freelance basis.

Ms Seah, who has a daughter, 30, and son, 28, remembers her 40s as being a time of hard work, juggling her job and caring for her children. "There was a lot of cold calling to get business, and while we faced rejection, we had to persist... Still, this helped me to jump-start my own freelance work later," she notes.

Born in the 60s: Recipe for success created through hard work
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 27 Oct 2019

Like most of his peers born in the 1960s in Singapore, Mr G. Shanmugam, 56, did not have a chance to go to university.

He belongs to the 51 per cent in his cohort, aged between 50 and 59 this year, who did not have a post-secondary education, according to figures the Ministry of Finance released last week. But despite that, he had gone on to become a successful restaurateur, starting the Gayatri Restaurant, now long-known for the quality of its Indian cuisine.

The MOF report found that each generation in their 40s has done better than the generation before.

Mr Shanmugam believes his family's story illustrates the finding.

School was a bit of a luxury for the son of an immigrant father and Singaporean mother, and he used to juggle his studies with helping out at his father's textile shop in Little India. "I would have wanted to study more. But in my mind and in my father's mind, I should take over his business one day. Even if I did not want to, I would have to do it," he says. So after completing his O levels, Mr Shanmugam left school to work with his father full-time.

That was in the 1980s, and competition was intense in the textile business. Anxious to pull ahead, he allowed his customers in India to buy on credit. They eventually defaulted and he lost $2 million. "I didn't even have enough money to get fuel for my delivery vehicle," he says of the time he hit rock-bottom.

But he plugged on and started delivering cargo so he could make up for the loss.

When he finally had some "extra cash" in the 1990s, he decided the textile business was no longer viable and closed down the shop to start a restaurant with a friend.

Over the years, Gayatri Restaurant has become the crown jewel in Mr Shanmugam's food business, which also includes contract catering and central kitchens.

The successful business allowed him to get his children educated, he says. Unlike him, his three sons had gone on to get degrees and diplomas. His eldest son, 30, has a degree in finance from Switzerland, while his second son, 28, has a culinary diploma. His youngest son, 22, is studying law in Queensland.

But though they had opportunities that their father did not, the two older children have chosen to follow in his footsteps to join the family business. Asked if he had expected them to do so, he says: "I gave them the option, and they took it up. I would have sold the business if they didn't want to take over."

Mr Shanmugam says that while his children have a much more comfortable life than him when he first started out, they will have a harder time growing the business, as competition is tougher these days. "In the early days. there were at most 10 or 20 restaurants offering Indian food, but now there are more than 100. Everyone is giving you a run for your money," he says.

"They will find it much harder to hit their targets. But they also have more opportunities to do big business and make big money."

Born in the 70s: 'If you wanted crab, you had to wait till payday'
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 27 Oct 2019

A five-room Housing Board flat for a home. An abundance of food choices and the financial ability to eat out. For Madam Roszita Ahmad, 45, life is a far cry from that of her parents, reflecting the progress made by successive generations of Singaporeans, a Finance Ministry study released last week shows.

The self-employed school canteen stallholder and her husband Khalid Abu Bakar live in a five-room flat in Tampines after living in a four-room unit in Sengkang for about five years. They moved to give their four children, aged between seven and 23, space.

In comparison, Madam Roszita's parents lived in a three-room flat. When she was a child, she says, "we always ate at home and never had the chance to go makan makan (eat outside). If you wanted to eat crab, you had to wait till payday, at the end of the month. My kids are very lucky. We spend up to a few hundred dollars to eat at restaurants twice a month".

The family travels twice a year during the school holidays, and has gone to cities in Japan, Europe and the Middle East.

Madam Roszita did not complete secondary school and her parents did not press her to do so. She wanted to pursue other interests. While doing administrative jobs after leaving school, she took part-time cooking classes. She now runs an online home business selling nasi lemak and plans to continue as the income is stable.

While her situation is an improvement from her parents' time, she does have some concerns about the future. She is happy to be self-employed, but thinks the competition in the job market is tough. "I see many foreigners everywhere, even where I live. It's tough to compete even for a front-desk job."

And things are more expensive now, she adds. Her eldest son, who is pursuing an engineering degree, tells her that meals outside can cost up to $7. He manages by coming home for meals.

Much of the family's financial stability is due to her husband's job as an engineer and his salary increases over the years. The downside is that she barely has CPF savings of her own, and is less financially savvy. But she does not want to be too dependent on her children, saying: "One day, they, too, will have their own families to support. I hope that the Government will provide more subsidies to Singaporeans, including bursaries for our children."

Some say there is less need to subsidise larger five-room flats, but "more utilities rebates would help (with the cost of living)", she says. Should her savings not be enough, she hopes to monetise her flat by downgrading to a three-room unit when her children move out.

She is proud that her three oldest children all have post-secondary qualifications.

"They know it's not easy in Singapore. I didn't have a good education, but I always tell my kids that if they want a good income, they have to go higher (in education)," she says.

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