The Futurists

Look at how families are changing

If you search for fix-its only after nasty surprises arrive, it may be too late. Singapore has leapt into the world of trend-spotting with more centres dedicated to finding ways to reduce its vulnerability to future shocks in today's highly unpredictable world. This is the third of a five-part series on experts in Singapore tackling the future today.

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser wants to know how the Singapore family is changing, and track this over many years to come.He heads the newly set up Social Lab which will embark on ground-breaking new research this year on the diverse social and family landscape in Singapore. The study will track the same 5,000 families over many years to find out how they cope with social and economic stresses that come their way. Researchers will ask the families about their housing dreams, educational aspirations and hopes of climbing up the social ladder, and return regularly to find out what has changed.

“Rather than study evidence on a piecemeal basis, we are hoping to build a house, brick by brick. Our study will help Singaporeans have a better sense of the big picture, and how their views compare with those of other Singaporeans,’’ he says. Families included in the longitudinal survey will be asked questions like these: How often do you eat together? Do you talk to each other in person or communicate via Skype? How many hours do you spend on leisure activities with your family? The study will look at the different family structures in Singapore, such as families without children and those headed by single parents. It will also look at how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues are affecting the institution of the family as well.The new study by the Social Lab, which is under the Institute of Policy Studies, is called the Panel Study on Social Dynamics and is modelled after similar long-term research done in the United States, Britain and Taiwan which examined how families coped and changed over decades.Read the full interview on the Social Lab’s work in The Straits Times