Last of the millennials

Singapore's 19-year-olds: Who they are, what they want

From their wish for a more consultative style of government to their career aspirations and opinions on marriage, the reactions of these 19-year-olds to a survey done on people of their age could provide some insight into their generation.
The generation coming up after Gen Z is already being referred to by some as Generation Alpha.
The generation coming up after Gen Z is already being referred to by some as Generation Alpha.PHOTO: ST FILE

By one definition, the 19-year-olds born in 1999 are the last cohort of the millennial generation. By another definition, they are already part of Generation Z, aka, iGen - those born between 1996 and 2010 - because the Internet and smartphones have defined many of their experiences thus far.

The generation coming up after Gen Z is already being referred to by some as Generation Alpha.

The Straits Times and Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) decided to study 19-year-olds to understand who they are, how they view the world and what they want out of life. While some of this information could have been gleaned from snap polls done by marketeers, we decided to ask this group to characterise themselves and share their thoughts, for a more nuanced and complete picture. We held two focus group discussions to understand some of the findings further.

The survey, carried out between August and November last year, had 1,056 respondents. They were either about to enter first year in university, or were final-year polytechnic or Institute of Technical Education students. Some of the males were serving national service. A small number were working.

As the majority were in post-secondary institutions and looking to further their education at the universities, we asked them about the education system they had been through and what their educational and career aspirations were.

The 19-year-olds belong to a generation shaped by the smartphone and the concomitant rise of social media. They were asked about their usage of mobile phones, laptops and various forms of media. The earlier millennial cohorts grew up with the Web as well, but it was not ever-present in their lives, at hand at all times, day and night.

We also sought to understand their views on issues, including political ones - from Section 377A, the law that criminalises gay sex, to whether the race of a prime minister should matter. Their responses give us a window into their views, and provide some clues about where this generation might be headed.

Many of them shared views and values consistent with the generalisations often trotted out about millennials and iGen. That said, some stereotypes were also debunked.

This study examines the characteristics of this age group through the lens of their differences, as well as through aspects which distinguish them from other groups.

Some differences are discernible across gender, education pathways, as well as socioeconomic status. Others are based on formed habits, such as extent of mobile phone use, or reading preferences. Still others are based on how they relate to technological developments.


The Straits Times and SUSS have attempted to distil the key findings of this survey, in the context of what these young people have seen, heard or experienced by way of history and culture since their birth.

SUSS president Cheong Hee Kiat said the university and The Straits Times share an interest in studying youth, adding that it is important to understand the worldview and aspirations of younger Singaporeans as it will influence how the country's future society will be like and will function.

SUSS is developing expertise in various critical areas such as early childhood development, life and career development in adulthood and senior citizenry.

Mr Warren Fernandez, Straits Times editor and editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English/ Malay/Tamil Media Group, said reporting on the issues that matter to young Singaporeans would help ST stay relevant to them.

"ST has served generations of Singaporeans through the years and we want to continue doing so for a long time to come. The best way to do so is to be in touch with our young, understand them and what moves them. If they read about themselves and the issues they care about in ST, they are more likely to stay engaged with us."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 12, 2019, with the headline 'The 19+: Who they are, what they want'. Subscribe