Singapore’s secret: We all live with our mums

January 24 — I have never lived alone.

I went from living with my parents and brother to living with my husband and his family — a trajectory I share with most of my peers.

I have never lived alone with the exception of the three months of my post-graduate program when my school had not found a flatmate for the two-bedroom university apartment I had been assigned.

Being completely alone was an experience that I had never given much thought to before but it turned out to be one I very much enjoyed.

Even if it was only for a little while and I am now happy to be back in the comfort of family and home-cooked meals, I am grateful for that little dose of independence.

Because the truth is in Singapore, this is a slice of modern city living that’s pretty hard to come by for the average middle-class young Singaporean.

Workers operate cranes at an executive condominium construction site next to completed public housing apartments in Singapore January 19, 2016. — Picture from AFP
Workers operate cranes at an executive condominium construction site next to completed public housing apartments in Singapore January 19, 2016. — Picture from AFP

Public housing with its myriad of grants and subsidies is unavailable to a single person below the age of 35 and private housing is prohibitively priced.

In fact, 80 per cent of Singaporeans live in public housing and while you could always rent — high prices, limited land area, the fact that you’d rather use money spent on rent to buy a place of your own one day means that most of us spend a great many decades with our parents.

The reality of most young adults in this nation is a far cry from the globalized cosmopolitan face Singapore presents to the world.

For example, a 31-year-old former classmate is earning well, has an assortment of hobbies and a large group of friends — what he doesn’t have is a partner.

And his current options are: continue to live in his boyhood bedroom within his parents’ flat for the next four years or sink every cent of his savings into a studio apartment in a brand new private development project in a budget-friendly neighbourhood.

Another very successful acquaintance waited till he was 35 and bought his three-bedroom HDB (Housing Development Board) flat but he makes it a point, he says, to return to see his parents three times a week.

Which I think is important; no one is saying that family is not important, this is not a question of filial piety but a simple matter of arranging finances, space and furniture in a way that accommodates the needs of more Singaporeans.

There are many cases where buying an apartment is not financially viable but living at home is undesirable/impossible: parents who don’t approve of your choice of partner (pre-marriage), people who simply don’t want to get married, people who for many legitimate reasons struggle to see eye to eye with their parents.

Consider  a married couple under 35 who own a HDB flat but now wish to get a divorce, they have to give up their flat and lose the investment they made. There are plenty of amicable routes that would allow one of the parties to keep the property but the rules do not make it easy.

I don’t disagree with the objective of encouraging family units and children to take responsibility for their elderly parents but it is crucial we are also focused on allowing a greater variety of sanctioned living arrangements and looking at development options that ensure more affordable rental properties come on to the market.

It’s not an overly difficult problem to fix; someone just has to decide that it’s time for  the 30-year-old kids to move out.


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