Inequality and Social Mobility

Inequality and social mobility are separate but related challenges. The former reflects an uneven access to resources, while the latter demonstrates the level of social justice, fairness, and equity in a society. While differences in socio-economic conditions are inevitable, social stratification have negative implications for social stability, well-being, and cohesion.

This research programme examines developments in this area, and considers measures to limit the negative trends.


Central Questions:

What are the drivers of inequality and social mobility in Singapore?

What policies are needed to level the playing field for different groups and increase social mobility?

In recent years, to meet Singapore's growing social needs, the government has invested in the social service sector particularly through developing professional manpower for the sector. However while demand for professional social service workers is high, there is a noticeable manpower shortage in the sector. This study, funded by the National Council for Social Services, uses a survey of social service professionals and indepth interviews to uncover the factors that predict the profiles of professionals who burnout and leave the sector and explores ways to increase retention of professionals.

Lead Researcher: Dr Mathew Mathews

Social Lab’s flagship project is a panel study on social dynamics. The study tracks changes in the lives of Singaporeans over time, through a representative panel of 5,000 households across Singapore. The purpose is to measure family relationships, social mobility and societal attitudes relevant to national identity over an extended period. Launched in 2014, the longitudinal study is the first of its kind in Singapore to reach out to a wide-ranging, random sample of households through in-depth, face-to-face interviews by trained surveyors.

Lead Researcher: Dr Leong Chan Hoong

The purpose of our research is to understand and inform how entrepreneurship can play a role in active ageing in Singapore. As a first cut, the proposed study here seeks to systematically understand why older people in Singapore start businesses – the push and pull factors, as well as the potential benefits of entrepreneurship with respect to their financial, health, and social well-being. Accordingly, our focus is to identify key antecedents to senior entrepreneurship and understand its efficacy in promoting productive longevity among senior citizens from a life course perspective.

Lead Researcher: Dr Alex Tan

The study aims to build a holistic understanding of youth in Singapore, including their educational/career pathways and trajectories, life outcomes and the factors that contribute to these desired outcomes. It involves a nationally-representative panel who will be recruited and tracked over six years. Youth aged between 17 and 19, and 20 and 24, will be surveyed on their sense of rootedness, family relationships, societal engagement and economic mobility and the findings aim to help policymakers formulate more relevant youth policies and programmes.

Lead Researcher: Dr Leong Chan Hoong

In 2016, IPS Social Lab conducted a survey of hawker food prices and created the Makan Index, an index of relative hawker food prices. The index acted as a proxy indicator for the cost of living in Singapore, where its relationship to various socio-economic factors was also investigated. Social Lab is updating the Makan Index in 2017 with certain improvements and refinements. Among them will be a survey of the number of halal-certified stalls and an examination of the effect that food places run by social enterprises have on food prices of eating places in the vicinity.

Lead Researcher: Goh Zhang Hao

This study, funded by SINDA and the National Council for Social Services examined the case of low income single Indian mothers and the challenges they faced parenting their children and finding normalcy to their lives. The study used a survey of over 400 low income clients from SINDA and 50 indepth interviews to also understand the types of services they required and how they benefitted from the programmes they were currently receiving.

Lead Researcher: Dr Mathew Mathews

This study looks at how different family structures and environments affect children's adoption and use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for learning, living and leisure. The findings will shed light on the opportunities and challenges children face in using ICTs and help shape policies relating to society, family and ICT uses in Singapore. A total of 100 single-parent and two-parent households, as well 10 not-for-profit organisations that provide assistance and services to children and families, will be interviewed for this study. Recruitment is ongoing. Click here for the eligibility criteria. This study is supported by the Social and Family Research Fund from the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

Lead Researcher: Dr Carol Soon

This proposed research is to enhance our understanding of the efficacy of undergraduate skills training - what is needed for young graduates in Singapore to succeed in today's workplace and in the foreseeable future. Using a combination of course curricula data for business and economics, and science and engineering bachelor's degree programmes, as well as job descriptions for the finance and insurance and biomedical sectors in Singapore, we empirically evaluate, using data mining techniques, the current state of skills university students develop versus the specific skills needed in the workplace. The study aims to gain valuable insights that can inform higher education and manpower policy makers in Government.

Lead Researcher: Dr Alex Tan

This study, using a survey of 1000 respondents and indepth interviews with 100 of them seeks to better understand the dynamics of multicultural living in the HDB heartlands. It looks at the challenges and opportunities to maintain such cohesion.

Lead Researcher: Dr Mathew Mathews

Marital instability is a frequent cause of family disruption and poverty. Marriage preparation and enrichment programmes seek to provide sufficient assistance to help couples cope with the different concerns related to their marriage and parenting tasks. This study, funded by the Ministry of Social and Family Development examines 2000 married persons to better understand marriage and family dynamics and perceptions and awareness to marriage interventions.

Lead Researcher: Dr Mathew Mathews

This project, funded by MUIS aims to better understand how a financial and empowerment programme conducted by MUIS impacts the lives of its beneficiaries. The study also seeks to use design thinking methods to suggest tweaks to future iterations of the programme.

Lead Researcher: Dr Mathew Mathews

This is an ongoing initiative to use an online collaboration platform to crowdsource contributions from practitioners, clients and the community on the needs of various vulnerable groups and social causes in Singapore. The intention is to create a "live" and constantly updated knowledge base instead of static reports. Various projects - on distressed migrant workers, disability and ex-offenders have been started by community partners. We welcome practitioners, researchers and policymakers to join us in this effort to collectively collate, analyse, produce and disseminate knowledge about client needs and service gaps.

Lead Researcher: Dr Justin Lee

The education system and school environment should support Singaporeans' educational aspirations. The study aims to capture parents' aspirations for their children's education, to better understand the views on the choice of a primary school and what they believe constitutes a good school and educational system. The study also examines the experiences of parents helping their children through their educational journey and what is thought to be needed to ensure that there is the right balance of competition, co-curricular activities (CCAs), and leisure for the child.

Lead Researcher: Dr Mathew Mathews

In recent decades, Singapore has witnessed an intensifying educational "arms race" with high expenditure and time on tuition and increasing stress on both parents and students. This qualitative study, funded by the Family Research Fund of the Ministry of Social and Family Development, examines the impact of academic stress on Singaporean families, particularly focusing on how parents translate perception of local education into expectations and aspirations for their children, and how this affects family bonding and familial relations. It positions parents as possible mediators of academic stress who can alleviate or exacerbate not just education pressure but also its impact on family ties.

Lead Researcher: Dr Mathew Mathews

Please click here to read more about the workshop.

Lead Researcher: Dr Faizal Bin Yahya

This project done between October 2015 to February 2016 sought to articulate what counts as ideal inclusion for people with disabilities in employment. This is important because the lack of clear guiding principles can result in patronising or oppressive practices in the name of “inclusion”. By examining existing codes of practice and close consultation with stakeholders, a set prescription that can be used to bring about meaningful and sensible inclusion of people with disabilities was articulated. The vision and guiding principles from the study can be the foundation for a longer-term strategic conversation with the larger disability community, employer groups and policymakers so that they remain relevant and refined as the sector changes. The findings of the study were also shared at the Managing Diversity Conference held in August 2016.

Lead Researcher: Dr Justin Lee

The Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) Committee was set up to examine ways to strengthen the applied education pathway in our polytechnics and ITE, and to propose feasible strategies to achieve this. This was to ensure that our polytechnic and ITE graduates have good career and academic progression prospects. IPS Social Lab conducted one of the surveys in February 2014 where its findings were incorporated into the policy recommendations in the final ASPIRE report. Among the recommendations were to lengthen the duration of internships, emphasise vocational hands-on training and enhance academic learning.

Lead Researcher: Dr Leong Chan Hoong

In May 2015, IPS held a conference where the final set of recommendations on the regulation of moneylending in Singapore, prepared by the Advisory Committee on Moneylending, was discussed. The committee was chaired by Mr Manu Bhaskaran, Director of Centennial Group International and Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at IPS. The committee included representatives from the moneylending industry as well as voluntary welfare organisations who help distressed borrowers. Issues considered by the committee included excessive borrowing costs, excessive borrowing and general business practices in the moneylending industry. Read the full report here.

Lead Researcher: Dr Faizal Bin Yahya

In 2014 and 2015, IPS held a series of closed-door discussions, each focusing on a different aspect of fostering a dynamic Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) environment. These include business costs and rent, financing challenges, manpower issues, dealing with bureaucracy and eventual recommendations as well. The discussion and subsequent analysis by IPS researchers are in IPS Exchange Series No.8: Supporting a Dynamic SME sector. Moving forward, SMEs will continue to play a pivotal role in Singapore’s economy.

Lead Researcher: Dr Faizal Bin Yahya