SINGAPORE: A recent survey conducted by Access Singapore, a non-profit organization focused on social mobility, has revealed stark concerns about increasing inequality within Singapore society, with one in two Singaporeans feeling that social inequality in Singapore has risen over the last decade.

This represents 51 per cent of the 1,000 respondents who were polled by Access Singapore in partnership with market research and data analytics firm Milieu Insight. The survey aimed to gauge public perceptions of social mobility in the country and assess the impact of the local education system on workforce preparation.

Those who said that Singapore had witnessed an escalation in social inequality over the last decade identified themes such as income disparity, social class, and living standards as potential catalysts for this growing divide, with many saying that the quality of education, social networks, and housing are pivotal factors for success.

An overwhelming majority of respondents (90 per cent) said they believe that robust social connections are essential to secure desirable jobs in Singapore, underscoring the significant role of networking and relationships in career advancement.

Another notable revelation was the respondents’ conviction that attending a prestigious secondary school enhances life prospects. A striking 82 per cent of respondents indicated that attending a brand-name secondary school impacts opportunities, possibly contrasting the Government’s claim that every school is good.

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The survey also found that 74 per cent of respondents believe a university degree is a prerequisite for a successful career in Singapore. Interestingly, this belief was less prevalent among those aged 55 and above, suggesting a subtle generational shift in perspective.

About 70 per cent of respondents believed that different neighbourhoods offer varying levels of upward mobility. Those supporting this sentiment pointed out that certain areas provide better access to social networks and facilities, contributing to their chances of success.

Founder and Executive Director of Access Singapore, Clarence Ching, highlighted the urgency of addressing these disparities. He said:

“The disadvantaged need to get ahead, and not just get by. We must never allow postal codes to determine outcomes in life. We must continue to narrow the opportunity gap, help the next generation open doors to new possibilities, and guide them towards their aspirations for a better future beyond what they once thought possible.”

Despite concerns about inequality, the survey revealed an encouraging trend: 85 per cent of respondents still believe in the potential to improve their socioeconomic status through hard work. The same proportion of Singaporeans said social mobility is important to their lives.

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Education can be the great equalizer for these Singaporeans, but more needs to be done to better equip citizens for jobs.

43 per cent of respondents identified a lack of required skills as the top obstacle to achieving career goals. 70 per cent, meanwhile, believed that the education system sufficiently equips students with the workforce.

While this seems promising, it also means that three out of ten Singaporeans do not believe that the education system sufficiently equips students with the workforce.

Access Singapore said this highlights the need for continual improvement in the education system to make it more effective in preparing students for their careers. It added that a greater emphasis on skills-building can help plug employment gaps and unlock more career opportunities.

70 per cent of Singaporeans said they would prefer the education system to encourage success beyond academic performance, while 67 per cent sought more effective resources for career guidance.

63 per cent extolled the value of promoting social and emotional development opportunities, while half of the respondents said that secondary school is the best stage for career opportunities and related information on employability to be introduced to individuals.

Calling for fast and decisive action to uplift the disadvantaged, Mr Clarence said: “The findings show that greater support and resources must be provided to help the disadvantaged expand their social and cultural capital in Singapore’s fight to tackle social mobility.

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“A refreshed meritocracy runs a real risk of being an overused political mantra if we do not take fast and decisive action. If we want to push for greater social mobility and equity in Singapore, our ultimate aim must be to uplift the bottom as well as diversify the top.”

Milieu Insight CEO Gerald Ang added, “While Singapore has done a lot to preserve social mobility, the quest for meritocracy remains an important aspiration. As we dive deeper into the specifics, this study sheds light into the intricate landscape of social mobility in Singapore.

Factors such as access to strong networks/ connections, the ability to work hard and  positive mental attitude are some of the top noted factors towards improving one’s socio-economic status.

The study also yielded encouraging results when it comes to the increasing significance of well-being and a balanced lifestyle in achieving success as the majority of respondents have prioritised health (74%), happiness (64%), and balance (61%) over wealth and career pursuits.”