Research Office   |  November 2009

The Subjective Wellbeing of Singaporeans


TAMBYAH SIOK KUAN
Senior Lecturer, Department of Marketing

TAN SOO JIUAN
Associate Professor, Department of Marketing

Short Abstract

This article provides some insights into the subjective wellbeing of Singaporeans based on the findings in our latest book “The Wellbeing of Singaporeans: Values, Lifestyles, Satisfaction and Quality of Life”.  The analyses utilized data from the AsiaBarometer Survey, which is currently the largest comparative survey on the daily lives of people in Asia, covering East, Southeast, South and Central Asia.

Introduction

As issues relating to happiness and wellbeing are enduring concerns that affect the lives of ordinary citizens and also the decisions of policy makers, it is important to consider the multiple facets of happiness and what are the factors that influence one’s sense of wellbeing.  One of the common approaches to assess quality of life or subjective wellbeing (SWB) is to examine people’s evaluation of their lives at both the affective and cognitive levels. Cognitive wellbeing is frequently measured with one or more items relating to both satisfaction with life as a whole and satisfaction with specific domains of life.  Such domains may include material wellbeing, community wellbeing, health, safety and so on.  Affective wellbeing refers to the balance of pleasures and displeasures in people’s lives, and is usually measured with items on happiness, enjoyment, achievement and the overall quality of life.

Cognitive Wellbeing
     

In terms of satisfaction, our research shows that, generally, Singaporeans were very satisfied with life, and with the top five life domains of marriage (for those who are married), family life, friendships, public safety, and housing. They were least satisfied with their household incomes, the social welfare system, the democratic system, their jobs, and education.

Affective Wellbeing

More than a quarter of Singaporeans (27.5%) reported being “very happy” and more than half (51.1%) reported being “quite happy”.  These two percentages add up to an overwhelming 78.6 percent of Singaporeans expressing contentment with their lot in life.  Singaporeans seemed to be enjoying life with an aggregate of 88.5 percent saying they are enjoying life “often” (34.3%) and “sometimes” (54.2%).  In contrast to the glowing statistics on happiness and enjoyment, only 16.9 percent of Singaporeans reported feeling they have accomplished “a great deal” in their lives. Combined with the 59.1 percent who reported “some” accomplishment, the top two response categories for this scale item garnered 76 percent. At least one in five (20.7%) felt they were achieving “very little”. 

Determinants of Wellbeing
     

It is important to examine what are some of the determinants of wellbeing.  In our research, we conducted regression analyses using a total of twenty one independent variables. Four were demographic variables (gender, age, education and income). Seventeen were non-demographic variables (fluency in English, religiosity, satisfaction with the personal life sphere, satisfaction with the interpersonal life sphere, satisfaction with the public life sphere, national pride, ethnocentrism, and how well the government is dealing with different issues in the country).

Generally, demographic variables do not exert a major influence on a person’s level of happiness, enjoyment and achievement.  The one exception was a (small) negative relationship between household income and achievement, and between household income and overall quality of life. This seems to imply that those who are richer do not necessarily feel that they have achieved a lot in life or feel more contented with their overall quality of life. This relationship held for the whole sample as well as for the sample of married respondents.  Increasing financial riches does not necessarily lead to higher levels of happiness. 
 
Satisfaction with one’s personal life sphere (which includes standard of living, household income, health, education and job) was a positive contributor to a person’s happiness, enjoyment, achievement and overall quality of life.  Satisfaction with one’s interpersonal life sphere (which includes housing, friendships, neighbors, family life, leisure and spiritual life) also boosted one’s sense of happiness, enjoyment and overall quality of life. 

Being proud of one’s Singaporean identity was a positive contributor to a person’s happiness, enjoyment, achievement and overall quality of life.  However, for married respondents, it only contributed to their sense of happiness and overall quality of life.

With reference to Singaporeans’ views on public policies, our study showed that the perceptions regarding the competency of the government had varying effects on Singaporeans’ happiness, enjoyment, achievement and overall quality of life. Generally, the performance of the government in various areas had a minimal impact for the whole sample (two out of ten areas) but more of an influence for the sample of married respondents (five out of ten areas).  For the whole sample, feeling that the government was dealing well with the quality of public services had a significant positive relationship with one’s sense of achievement.  In addition, feeling that the government was dealing well with ethnic conflict had a positive influence on one’s sense of happiness.

Additional relationships were noted for the sample of married respondents. Specifically, their happiness was affected by how well they think the government was dealing with the economy and crime. Their achievement was affected by how well they think the government was dealing with the quality of public services (the only effect similar to the whole sample) and immigration. Lastly, their overall quality of life was affected by how well they think the government was dealing with unemployment

Longitudinal Comparisons

While it is useful to have a snapshot of concepts relating to wellbeing at any given point in time, it is also insightful to have longitudinal comparisons on certain key concepts over time.  As we compare the results of our various research studies through the years (1991, 2001 and 2001), we note that satisfaction levels with most of the life domains have been increasing over time (see Table 1).  The exception is for jobs, which had a slight dip from 2001 (74.1%) to 2006 (70.9%).  This is an encouraging trend suggesting that Singaporeans are enjoying progress in both material comfort (i.e., enjoying a higher standard of living) and emotional sustenance (i.e. becoming more fulfilled in their relationships).

Table 1: Longitudinal Comparison of Satisfaction with Aspects of Life

Life Domains 2006 AsiaBarometer1 2001 Singapore2 1996 Singapore3


Friends/friendship 89.7

74.1 69.7


Marriage/romantic relationship
94.7 80.4

77.1

Standard of living/material comfort 76.0 66.4 55.4


Household income/money 64.8 63.5 43.9


Health

83.7 74.2 70.5


Job (for those working)


70.9 74.1 59.8
Family life/relationships with children, parents and siblings 92.5 83.3 (average of percentages for relationship with children, parents and siblings). 79.9 (average of percentages for relationship with children, parents and siblings).


Leisure 84.1 68.1 56.2


1: Percentages of people who indicated they were “Very satisfied” and “Somewhat satisfied” with the aspects of life in survey of 1000 respondents in the 2006 AsiaBarometer Survey (source: www.asiabarometer.org).  Additional analyses can be found in Tambyah Siok Kuan, Tan Soo Jiuan and Kau Ah Keng (2009), The Wellbeing of Singaporeans, World Scientific Press Co. Pte Ltd, Singapore.

2. Percentage of people who indicated they were “very satisfied” and “Satisfied” with the aspects of life, in survey of 1500 respondents in Singapore in 2001 (source: Understanding Singaporeans: Values, Lifestyles, Aspirations and Consumption Behaviors,” by Kau Ah Keng, Jung Kwon, Tambyah Siok Kuan, Tan Soo Jiuan, published by World Scientific , 2004).

3. Percentage of people who indicated they were “very satisfied” and “Satisfied” with the aspects of life, in survey of 1600 respondents in Singapore in 1996 (source: Seven faces of Singaporeans,” by Kau Ah Keng, Tan Soo Jiuan and Jochen Wirtz, published by Prentice Hall, 2001).

 

Footnote:  Dr Tambyah and A/P Tan have been actively involved in research on wellbeing since 2001 and 1996 respectively. Their research focuses on issues relating to the aspirations, values, lifestyles, life satisfaction, and quality of life of Singaporeans and other Asians.

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