Thanks to decades of result-oriented education, growing materialism, rapid industrialisation, and a heavy touch of economically driven social policies, we’ve become a highly rationalised society – therefore marriage rates are plunging into steep decline.
It is more convenient to overlook sociology and just isolate the problem to individualistic generation of Singaporeans we have today. It is after all less complicated if a generation of human beings (Gen Y, in this case) is identified as the problem, as compared to looking at policies and their social ramifications.
It is reported that global economic uncertainty is one reason for singles not wedding. It is even more interesting that no political leader has taken ownership and responsibility for the policies he has passed which has disempowered a generation of Singaporeans into embracing a very rational and economically-driven approach to life.
This is a classic case of paying the price for decisions made by the previous generation of leaders.
Our over-rationalised nature is a product of a socialisation that is strongly steered by a series of incentive and disincentives. Love and marriage are now more logical and rational, rather than emotional and irrational.
Love and marriage are extended and externalised as it constantly remains couched in the rhetoric of policy, politics, “national service” and so on.
Marriage is now defined by its function and the ramifications if its numbers are insufficient. As such, we fuss a lot more over its form – we focus on age, race and composition (e.g. heterosexual composition) – and when we’re happy with a certain form, more policies are crafted to favour it.
Speaking of “national service”, isn’t it very demeaning to women who make the choice to stay single or married or not to have kids, and we’re telling them making babies equates to doing national service?
Let’s put some of the pieces together first:
People are marrying later.
People want to be financially independent as early as possible.
Flats are more expensive.
Flats are smaller.
People have elderly folks to look after.
Elderly folks face limitations in medical subsidies and access to medical help.
Cost of living continues to increase.
So, what would rational Singaporeans do?
Take care of the people who are already in existence (elders). Earn as much money as possible, be financially independent. Financial independence seem to be the new “sexy” in a materialistic age. A childless marriage makes sense for those who want to enjoy their brand of independence and comfort. That’s economically stable, and it’s rational.
The point is, don’t try to blame Singaporeans for being over-rational or individualistic. Let’s look at the context and how we have been socialised into becoming this way.
The news report need not interview sociologists and give a watered down assessment of the situation. Our leaders just need to have a little sociological imagination, and they’ll be less prone to blaming the products of their own policies.
If the government wants to have a holistic approach to policy, it should first take greater responsibility of its policies and genuinely accept that its decisions, past and present, create the means for a society to exhibit such tendencies.
I think we’re come to a point where our leaders have difficulty leading by example. While I personally prefer our leaders to show their personal and family man/woman side (have the press depict them as family guys), they’ll probably be dismissed as socio-economically privileged folks living in comfort and have the means to have big happy families.
I personally like to see Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hold his wife’s hand and show that he is a family guy. It is symbolic, and it shows that despite the Lee household’s rather comfortable combined income, family has a place. We are far too obsessed with professional performance and buttoned-up public personae, we forget about how marriage and family can have a place in this heavily rationalised mess.