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Getting more to be dual-income couples

53.8% average is low as it includes all married couples, including those aged 65 and above

Reader Mulan Quan wrote to askST and noted that among the key household changes in the latest General Household Survey is the fact that 53.8 per cent of married couples are dual-income couples. She observed that this percentage seems low and asked: "Is there a breakdown on age group, education levels and reasons for the 46 per cent that are not working?

"If we can persuade these 46 per cent to work full time/part time, this might alleviate the shortage of manpower in Singapore. What are the programmes/incentives that might help to bring more to join the workforce? Would having more childcare centres, senior citizen centres help? How does this percentage compare to the other advanced economies in the US, Nordic countries, or closer home, in South Korea, Taiwan?"

Deputy News Editor (Political) Zakir Hussain answers.

Table 6.2 on page 38 of the General Household Survey report (http://str.sg/ZFjV) gives a breakdown on the proportion of married couples where both partners work, by age group.

Although nearly 54 per cent of married couples are dual-income couples, this figure is much higher - over 75 per cent - for those where the husband is under 35, and 70 per cent for those where the husband is aged 35 to 49.

But it goes down to 52.3 per cent where the men are 50 to 64.

The average is low because it includes all married couples, including those 65 and above.

You can find more details at the Department of Statistics Singapore's website (http://str.sg/ZFj9).

The survey does not go into the reasons why one partner is not working.

But observers suggest a host of factors are at work: looking after young children, aged parents, or even participation in part-time/flexi or undeclared work arrangements.

More childcare and senior centres might help, but only up to a point. This figure is also set to remain high as people work past 65.

We have not been able to draw direct comparisons across developed economies, but the average proportion of dual-income families overall hovers around 60 per cent in the United States (2012 figure) and in Japan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2016, with the headline 'Getting more to be dual-income couples'. Print Edition | Subscribe