The Confused Family?

October 15, 2008

According to a National Family Council (NFC) survey, more Singaporeans are now aware of the importance of family. As a self-professed Confucian society where ‘Asian values’ supposedly reign supreme it’s a bit surprising that this survey is newsworthy.  




But it is; and for very good reasons. Traditional concepts of the ‘family’ have been re-defined by changing attitudes, values and lifestyles that come with modernity and capitalism. All over the world, the idea of ‘family’ is undergoing negotiations with contemporary needs and desires.


Take Singapore for example. Not too long ago, the concept of ‘family’ was a 3-generation one where grandparents, parents and children all lived under one roof. The family network was broader and more immediate. Family members used to live within walking distance of each other and could thus render domestic assistance when needed.


Urbanisation and relocation effectively broke these 3-generation families apart. Today, grandparents live in Outram or Toa Payoh (areas with the oldest residents) while young parents live in Woodlands or Punggol (areas with youngest residents). And to address these social trends, we have a slew of HDB subsidies that try to promote proximity in the extended family.


Not only is the 3-generation family going the way of the dodo, the desirability of the family is also fading quickly. Many Singaporean couples are marrying later in life. In 2007 the mean marrying age for first-time grooms and brides were 30 years old and 27 years old, respectively. And when they eventually start a family, it’s invariably a single-child one.


And to put things into perspective, although the media put a positive spin on the survey, the survey did show some revealing figures. It said that 3 in 10 people now make more effort to give their families top priority. 3 in 10! That’s a minority in anyone’s book. The report also said that an “increased awareness” in the NFC’s activities “had an impact on attitudes. As a result, 1 in 4 showed more care towards their families.” 1 in 4 again is a minority no matter how you spin it.


The other challenge is of course to the idea of a ‘nuclear’ family that consists of one father, one mother, and children. More and more individuals no longer subscribe to this definition. Gays, lesbians, single mothers, single fathers, orphans and so on are systematically excluded from this rigid definition. It is also an arbitrary definition. We have seen how our idea of ‘family’ was much larger years ago than the ‘nuclear’ model. Historians and sociologists have pointed out that the ‘nuclear’ family is very much a Western invention that gained popularity during the Industrial Revolution because of transmigration to the cities.


So just how Confucian are we? We don’t live with our parents, we rely more on foreign maids for help than extended family, only a minority of us prioritize and show care to our families, and we don’t want to marry or start families. Confucius must be spinning faster in his grave than the particles in the Large Hadron Collider! It’s time this Confucian charade is dropped. The faster we disabuse ourselves of this romantic nostalgic culturalist concept of ‘family’, the better we can deal with the situation.



4 Responses to “The Confused Family?”

  1. sushibar Says:


  2. […] Discourse – groundnotes: The Confused Family? – A Poor Scholar: It’s all about Populism – TOC: “How much does the Government care?” – Where […]

  3. […] ultimately pays for it? – TOC: How to make better use of Government “goodies” – groundnotes: The Confused Family? [Recommended] – A Poor Scholar: It’s all about Populism [Recommended] – TOC: “How much does the […]

  4. […] Last Oct. 15, groundnotes posted this in his blog, "According to a National Family Council Survey, more Singaporeans are now aware of the importan… […]

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