Singaporean Culture


In collectivist cultures, such as Singapore, the family is the first group a person joins at birth. The interests of the family are expected to supersede those of the individual and loyalty (such as preferential treatment) is shown to fellow family members. Families also have a collective face. The act of an individual will impact the perception of the entire family by others. This is especially true of Chinese and Indian Singaporean households. They often make long-term plans to maximise the success and income of their entire household and family into the next generation. Meanwhile, Malay Singaporeans have tended to conceptualise family from a more individualistic perspective and usually see their household situations as temporary, not constant, continuing bodies. 

However, for all ethnicities, the extended family has traditionally lived with the immediate family. The patriarch of the household has often been the father, with the mother’s role largely entailing domestic duties and caring for the children. Elders are consulted on all important family matters and parental control over children extends well into  adulthood.

In 2013, the Survey of Social Attitudes of Singaporeans showed that 90% of respondents believed they had close-knit families and 80% still maintained ties with extended family. However, in modern industrialised Singapore, the multigenerational family structure is difficult to maintain and the nuclear family has become the predominant household structure. There has also been a significant increase in people living alone and couples deciding not to have children.

Within the household hierarchy, both parents now usually share disciplinary power over their children, whereas previously it was largely the father. Young adults can also get married and move out of the home without parental permission, and all siblings have equal inheritance rights.

The average Chinese Singaporean family dynamic is still influenced by the Confucian organisation of relationships. Age is the overriding factor determining seniority in the household, with elders honoured for their wisdom in accordance with filial piety. The family is expected to care for them into their old age; however, with an ageing population and the younger generation growing more individualistic, demanding and bold, maintaining these values is a point of difficulty for Singapore. In 1996, the government passed a law mandating that children “assume financial responsibility for their elderly parents should the need arise”. But, this is difficult to achieve as the multigenerational family structure is on a steady decline.

Relationships and Marriage
Singaporean families often include a combination of different ethnicities. Marriages between citizens and noncitizens, as well as cross-ethnic marriages, are becoming more common.The Singapore government has strict restrictions on sexuality and related issues. Pornography is entirely banned. Actions considered pornographic include being naked in one’s own home (if viewable by the public) and homosexual activity. Homosexual activity is illegal and punishable by up to 2 years in prison.

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