Emigration survey doesn't capture more complex motivations of young Singaporeans

A 2016 research study by the Institute of Policy Studies found that 18.3 per cent of the 2,000 young Singaporean respondents had thought about emigrating permanently, down from 21.2 per cent in 2010 (Survey: Fewer young Singaporeans think of emigrating; Sept 29).

The emigration survey, however, does not capture the more complex motivations of moving away from Singapore.

First, it considered only permanent emigration. Given Singapore's stability, social policies, and incentives for families, young Singaporeans may choose to ply their trade in other countries without renouncing their citizenship, before returning home eventually to raise families or retire.

The second and more important shortcoming is related to the indicators associated with the intention to emigrate.

A likely problem lies in the wide age range of those surveyed - from 19-year-olds to 30-year-olds.

A single 19-year-old who is still doingnational service, just starting work or thinking about university will have different considerations when compared with a married 30-year-old who is making plans to start a family or is establishing himself at the workplace, and is financially independent with greater life experiences.

Life experiences are especially critical, because it is reasonable to posit that someone who has studied or worked for a long time in a foreign country - in other words, who has a better idea of what it actually means to be living abroad - will be able to make more informed decisions. But these were not measured.

Perhaps future studies could include a backgrounder, contextualising young Singaporeans with the intention of moving abroad - either temporarily or permanently - with the actual number of overseas Singaporeans and emigrations, and further comparing these statistics with those from other countries which share a similar profile.

Another good starting point would be studies of Singaporeans or former Singaporeans who are based abroad, to frame and to measure their reasons for moving.

Kwan Jin Yao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2018, with the headline 'Emigration survey doesn't capture more complex motivations of young S'poreans'. Subscribe