Beginning with the textbook that gifted us the ‘high/low SES’ generalisations, and culminating in Channel NewsAsia’s documentary Regardless of Class, inequality has arguably become the national conversation of 2018.
At the same time, a lot of it has been anecdotally driven, and based on sweeping assumptions about how Singaporeans across different income brackets behave and view each other.
Even Regardless of Class was guilty of this, as we pointed out in an article detailing how it had been artfully edited to reinforce the perceived divide between Singaporeans of different socioeconomic backgrounds.
In the documentary, a survey points out that 76% of the “higher classes” feel proud to be Singaporeans, as compared to 50% of the “lower classes”. Additionally, 70% of the “higher classes” felt a sense of belonging to Singapore, as compared to 46% of the “lower classes”.
These are some jarring observations, yet they beg the question: so what if Singaporeans in different income brackets don’t feel a sense of belonging?
Is nationalistic pride the sole objective of working towards a more equal society?
For instance, is it true that higher income Singaporeans are less interested in inequality than lower income Singaporeans?
Based on the stereotype of the snobbish, elitist ‘high SES’ individual, one would think so. Yet a survey* RICE recently conducted with Milieu Insight, an independent research company, showed that a nearly equal percentage of Singaporeans across various income groups think that inequality is a problem.
The data is based on a survey of 2,325 Singaporeans between 18-60 years old, representative of the various monthly personal income groups in Singapore.
Out of these 2,325 Singaporeans polled across personal income groups, an overwhelming 92% feel that socio-economic inequality is a pressing issue.
Out of 132 respondents who earn more than S$8000 a month, 82% think that socio-economic inequality is a pressing issue. Surprisingly, this isn’t too far off from those who earn between S$5000 to S$8000 a month: out of the 307 respondents we polled, 89% agree that socio-economic inequality is a pressing issue.
For the 746 respondents who make between S$3000 to S$5000 a month, and the 1140 who make less than S$3000, 93% of both agree.
“What does this mean for Singaporeans?” you might wonder.
Concurrently, we should not be distracted by narratives that inadvertently demonise those who happen to be more affluent.
When asked whether they believe inequality is a result of external factors, such as the economy or government policies, a majority (72%) of Singaporeans believed this to be true.
In addition, when we examine the differences in opinion (on this topic) across income brackets, Singaporeans who earn less are more likely to believe external factors cause inequality (76% for those who earn less than S$3000 vs 61% for those who earn more than S$8000).
But this doesn’t negate the fact that, even among higher income earners, a majority of the population have a shared opinion on the topic of what causes inequality.
Accordingly, anecdotes illustrating the divide between income groups, which are often amplified to levels of virality on social media, may in fact be less representative of reality than we think.
As we mentioned in our original critique of Regardless of Class, inequality will not go away the minute Singaporeans of different income groups decide to be nicer to each other. Instead, we must confront our “lack of a basic minimum wage, our anti-welfare mindset, and the neo-liberal, pro-business policies that have created this wealth gap”.
With speculation mounting regarding the possibility of a General Election next year, it remains to be seen whether come 2019, we might finally consider the possibility that perhaps the solution to socio-economic inequality lies in adjusting our policies.
*Milieu Insight is an independent, Singapore-based online market research company that measures public opinion through a mobile survey app, leveraging high quality data to provide insights for everyone.
This survey was conducted in December 2018 amongst 2,325 Singaporeans between 18-60 years old, representative of the various monthly personal income groups in Singapore.