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Social impact of solo households in S'pore

Publication Date : 13-03-2014

 

It should come as no surprise that the latest Population Trends data shows a rising curve of Singaporeans living alone. The higher the population density, the greater seems to be the craving for personal space.

Whether it is happening from force of circumstance or out of choice, the sociological impact either way calls for long-range studies to address needs and assess the change that will be wrought on society.

As an example, the overall well-being of those forced into single existence has been questioned in new research, which suggests they are more likely to fall ill or die before their time.

The Housing Development Board (HDB), through its design priorities, is steering the single elderly towards living with family in multi-generational households, or at least to be within distance of their married children's homes. This is an ethos which should be retained, although society does not stand still.

There are those who were divorced or widowed and chose to live apart from their grown children. They would be no different from youngsters who describe their solo existence as a lifestyle choice which makes them (and perhaps others) feel unencumbered.

But herein lies a policy dilemma: Does the HDB build more singles' flats, which it has begun to do on a modest scale, or should it decide that sound social policy entails cutting off at a certain level? It is arguably in society's interest for such demand to be kept in check by encouraging singles to live with their families or within supportive circles.

Even with the best efforts, the trend of the elderly living alone might grow with baby boomers - the oldest among them reached retirement age in the past several years. Baby boomers have the means and the gusto to sustain a varied life of travel and personal interests. A good number of them would not want to be constrained by living with married children and their very young offspring.

Singapore's doubling in the rate of single households, from 4.6 per cent to 9.5 per cent within a generation (1992 to 2012), is consistent with the trend in the developed world. Taiwan and South Korea have seen the proportion grow to just over 20 per cent.

In Japan, the rate is over 30 per cent. In the United States, 27 per cent of households are of single dwellers.

This is a reality policymakers everywhere will need to come to grips with. Seniors living alone will rely more on the state for the support once available in extended families.

Independence might shift their focus from families to interest groups. And as a consequence of better education and incomes, they will be more vocal. All this will have an impact on the dynamics of generational interaction.

 

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