Household incomes, living standards have gone up

Food serving services as a portion of food expenditure grew to 68 per cent from 64 per cent previously.
Food serving services as a portion of food expenditure grew to 68 per cent from 64 per cent previously.PHOTO: ST FILE

But those in the bottom 20% income group see rise in spending outpace income growth: Survey

Families across all income groups are earning more than they did five years ago and, in general, their incomes are rising faster than their spending, a government survey has found.

The survey also found that the standard of living has continued to rise.

Conducted every five years, the latest Household Expenditure Survey is based on data collected in 2017 and 2018 from 13,100 Singaporean and permanent resident households.

Overall, the average monthly household income rose to $11,780 from $10,470 in the survey conducted between 2012 and 2013.

This works out to an average hike of 2.4 per cent a year in dollar terms. If inflation is taken into account, the rise is 2.2 per cent a year.

Spending on goods and services also went up to $4,910 a month from $4,720 five years before.

There were divergences, though, in the earning and spending patterns across different income groups.

For households in the top 20 per cent income group, monthly expenditure remained relatively stable - at $7,573 - in the five-year period, while their monthly income grew 1.6 per cent a year to touch $26,587.

 
 
 

Those in the bottom 20 per cent income group saw their income jump 2.8 per cent a year on average to reach $2,235. But they were also the only ones whose annual growth in spending - at 3 per cent - outstripped their rise in earnings. They were spending $2,570 a month on average.

Among this group, more than a third - 36.7 per cent - were headed by people aged 65 and older.

Most of the spending across the board was on essentials, with housing, food and transport collectively making up the biggest portion - 62 per cent - of monthly household expenditure, down slightly from the 65 per cent in the previous survey.

However, the survey also found evidence of rising standards of living, with nearly 80 per cent of all households owning air-conditioners and near-universal ownership of televisions and mobile phones.

Economists said the income growth showed modest improvement over the years, but also cautioned people, especially young Singaporeans, to temper their expectations about increases in the future.

OCBC economist Selena Ling noted that due to the protracted US-China trade war and slowing China economy, "income growth may soften in line with the domestic labour market conditions".

"For the bottom 20 per cent of households, the question is how to make sure the rising tide continues to lift all boats, be it through market forces or with the assistance of enhanced policy support, whether in the form of fiscal transfers or wage adjustments," she added.

Maybank economist Chua Hak Bin wondered if the income growth rate would fall in the coming years as Singapore deals with an ageing population and tightened immigration policies. "For younger Singaporeans, this might be cause for concern. Two to three decades ago, new entrants to the workforce could look forward to high wage growth, but expectations have to be moderated today."

The survey also looked at home ownership rates and common household appliances as an indicator of the standard of living.

Most significantly, households in the lowest 20 per cent income group saw significant increases in ownership of air-conditioners, as well as access to the Internet.

A quarter of those living in one-and two-room HDB flats had air-conditioners in 2017/18, up from 14 per cent five years before; and 45 per cent had an Internet subscription, double that of the 22 per cent before.

Singapore Management University sociologist Paulin Straughan said these figures suggest that "what constitutes basic essentials have been redefined".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2019, with the headline 'Household incomes, living standards have gone up'. Print Edition | Subscribe