Singaporeans' education, employment, wage outcomes have improved over the generations: MOF study

The new study by the Ministry of Finance tracks the socio-economic outcomes of four generations of Singapore citizens born from 1940 to 1979. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Compared to earlier cohorts, Singaporeans in their 40s today are better educated, more able to find jobs and earn more, and live longer.

But they also have less family support, as fewer of them are married and families are smaller, a report by the Ministry of Finance published on Tuesday (Oct 22) shows.

And while home ownership has risen over time, there was a slight dip for the generation in their 40s, compared with those who are in their 50s and 60s.

The study, which draws on previously unpublished data from the Department of Statistics and the Manpower and Health Ministries, tracks the socio-economic outcomes of four generations of Singapore citizens born from 1940 to 1979.

It shows that 44 per cent of those born in the 1970s have university degrees, compared to 21 per cent of those born in the 1960s, and 7 per cent of those born in the 1940s.

The median real gross monthly income of those in their 40s is twice that of those in their 60s, when that group was still in their 40s. Even the bottom 20 per cent of income earners draw twice as much as those in their 60s did when they were in their 40s.

And the median real balance in their CPF Ordinary and Special Accounts is three times that of those in their 60s at the same age, after accounting for inflation.

Singaporeans in their 20s and 30s are not included in the report, as they are still in the early stages of their working life, says the MOF.

For more meaningful comparison, outcomes like earnings, retirement savings and health are better observed later on in life, said the ministry, which is monitoring the younger cohorts.

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Higher educational attainment, incomes and CPF savings

The report highlighted that 79 per cent of Singaporeans in their 40s have post-secondary qualifications, compared to 49 cent of those in their 50s and 22 per cent of those in their 70s.

One factor is that those born in the 1940s grew up in a fragmented schooling landscape with uneven quality, organised by different community groups. While vocational schools expanded in the 1960s and 1970s, it was not until the 1980s that a robust national curriculum was developed.

Those in their 40s benefited from major shifts in the education system focusing on technological literacy, continuing skills development, innovation and enterprise - a trend set to continue with younger Singaporeans who are not included in the current study.

The report adds: "Today, students benefit from well-resourced schools and a large degree of flexibility... where they can choose from multiple pathways based on their strengths and talents."

Due to an increase in the female participation rate, more are now active in the workforce.

While total labour force participation rate rose by 5 percentage points between 2009 and 2018, women's participation jumped by more than 10 points during the same period.

Singaporeans in their 40s are also earning more. At $5,900, the median real gross monthly income including employer Central Provident Fund contributions of all full-time workers is about twice that of older groups when they were at the same age. The median is the mid-way point in the population.

This applies even to the bottom 20 per cent of income earners, who earn $3,000 or less a month - twice as much as those in their 60s, when they were in their 40s.

Overall, the median CPF account balance of those in their 40s is three times that of those in their 60s, when shorn of inflation's effects.

Slight dip but residential property ownership rate remains high

Some 82 per cent of citizens in their 40s own at least one property.

This is 3 to 5 percentage points lower than those in their 50s and 60s, but higher than the 76 per cent ownership rate of those in their 70s.

Someone in his 40s who lives with his parents in a parent-owned home would not be considered a property owner, unless he has another property elsewhere.

"As this generation are only in their 40s, they still have many opportunities to purchase a residential property, especially given their higher CPF balances," says an MOF spokesman. "They also have more years to remain in the work force and earn more and save more."

The report states that most Housing Board dwellers have leases that are long enough to cover them until at least age 95. They have an asset that can be monetised if necessary to supplement their retirement needs, for example, by right-sizing or through the Lease Buyback Scheme.

Under the scheme, Singaporeans can sell part of their flat's lease to the HDB, with proceeds from the sale used to top up their CPF Retirement Account.

Longer lives and better health, but less family support

Singaporeans are healthier and living longer too. At age 45, those in their 40s can expect to live another 41 years, compared to an average of 37 years for older groups.

Adjusting for the amount of time lived in less than perfect health, each group can still expect to live for one to three more years in good health, compared to each previous older group.

However, subsequent generations of Singaporeans may have to get used to receiving less support from their immediate family. This is due to lower marriage rates and smaller family sizes, says the report.

The percentage of "ever-married" women has steadily declined from a high of 92 per cent among those in their 70s, to 82 per cent of women in their 40s.

Ever-married women refer to those who are married, widowed, divorced or separated.

The number of children per woman dipped to 1.8 last year, compared to between 2.0 and 2.5 children for older groups.

The report acknowledges that with reduced family support, the Government will have to work with community partners to support those who need additional assistance, and adapt its policies in line with a maturing economy and society.

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