special report: marriage in singapore
More mixed unions and remarriages
This story originally appeared in The Sunday Times on Sept 30.
Published on Oct 14, 2012 6:00 AM
Love conquers all, even formidable obstacles such as racial differences and previous failed unions. This picture emerges from Singapore's latest marriage data, released in July.
The trends suggest that Singaporeans are becoming more liberal in their choice of mates, with more marrying outside their ethnic groups or tying the knot with divorcees.
Academics and counsellors expect some of these trends to continue, promising more diverse families.
Take, for example, mixed marriages with partners of different ethnic groups. Last year, one in five marriages (19.8 per cent) was an inter-ethnic union, up from one in eight (12.6 per cent) in 2001. There were 5,388 such marriages last year, almost double the 2,814 in 2001.
This sharp rise was largely driven by Singaporeans marrying foreigners rather than Singaporeans of a different race - and these numbers are likely to keep rising with globalisation.
And if parents object? Well, most now have less say in whom their children marry.
Mr Leng Chin Fai, director of Fei Yue Community Services, said: "Parents may discourage their children from finding a partner of another race, but they seldom object to their child's choice. Parents do respect their children's wishes now, unlike in the past."
Another phenomenon likely to stay is the growing number of re-marriages.
One in four marriages (25.5 per cent) last year involved at least one partner remarrying. This is up from one in five marriages (19.7 per cent) a decade ago. There were 6,943 such marriages last year, an almost 60 per cent jump from the 4,385 in 2001.
Counsellors say the stigma of divorce has also weakened considerably, and with many divorcees still only in their 30s and 40s, more are taking the plunge again.
The statistics also show that the trend of Singaporeans delaying marriage has persisted.
Last year, the median age for first marriages was 30.1 years for grooms and 28 for brides. This is more than a year older than the 28.8 for men and 26.2 for women in 2001.
Accountant Chloe Hong, 34, is representative of this trend. After "five or six" failed relationships, she wondered if she would go through life alone. But she did not want to marry for the sake of it.
About three years ago, she met the man she would marry, a 36-year-old auditor, through a dating website. The pair wed in July after a two-year courtship.
"I feel very comfortable with him as he accepts me for who I am and he has a very good temper," she said.
"When he proposed, I felt he was someone I could rely on and live with for the rest of my life."
Last year set a record for marriages, with 27,258 unions, the largest number registered since independence in 1965, a Sunday Times check found.
But hold the champagne. The marriage boom has been fuelled largely by nuptials between foreigners, who are also the reason Singapore's population has shot past 5million over the past decade, academics say.
Last year, there were 1,914 marriages where both bride and groom were not Singapore citizens or permanent residents. That was more than double the 790 a decade ago.
Meanwhile, the general marriage rate for Singaporeans and permanent residents has dipped in the past decade, as more residents are remaining single.
For every 1,000 unmarried male residents aged between 15 and 44, there were 43.7 men who married last year, down from 47 in 2001. And for every 1,000 unmarried female residents in the same age group, 41.4 women married last year, down from 46.3 in 2001.
Among foreigners who wed here were Mr Carlito Evangelista Cinco, 29, and his wife Gerlen, 27, from the Philippines. They met while they were working in a Manila hotel.
He came here in search of better career opportunities five years ago. She joined him after finding a job as a management supervisor in a restaurant.
Mr Cinco, a hotel assistant manager, said: "My pay here is two or three times what I can earn in the Philippines."
The employment pass holders married in 2010 and hope to apply for permanent residency.
A small number of foreigners who hold their weddings here do not even live or work here. They choose Singapore for convenience, said marriage solemnisers.
For instance, Sikh community leader Jasbir Singh has solemnised marriages for some couples whose relatives had trouble getting entry visas elsewhere.
One was an Indian national whose Indian bride lived in Australia. Her parents were unable to get visas to Australia, so the wedding was held here.
Academics say that with more couples marrying at a later age, they are likely to have fewer or no children - dismal news for a baby-starved Singapore.
Other aspects of the marriage picture indicate that more families will deal with issues of step-children, step-parents and "blended" families where couples with children from previous marriages go on to have children of their own. Family ties will get more complicated.
As Institute of Policy Studies demographer Yap Mui Teng described it: "The family of the future is evolving and it's going to be more diverse."