By Dr Mohamad Shamsuri Juhari

Budget 2014’s emphasis on the Pioneer Generation brings a much awaited relief to the growing number of families facing mounting financial expenses in taking care of their elderly. As a son living under the same roof with my ageing parents, I am truly able to empathise and relate to those facing challenges in looking after the infirm. In addition to the other planned initiatives, this year’s Budget qualifies itself as what has been termed as a ‘ground-up endeavour’. However, there is one key concern, which was not addressed in this year’s Budget to facilitate social mobility growth, in particular of the Malay/Muslim community (MMC).

The MMC currently has a cumulative ratio of about 40 dependants per 100 persons – the highest among the four major ethnic groups in Singapore. However, when the dependants are broken down into two categories: children below fifteen years of age, and elderly above 65 years; the ratio is significantly higher for the former group1.


1 Age Dependency Ratio (per 100 persons aged 15 – 64 years)

Source: Census of Population, 2010

This phenomenon can be correlated to the number of single income households in Singapore, where 54.4% of ever-married female Malays are economically inactive2. This essentially means that a majority of female Malays in Singapore are not working or earning any income – which again, is the highest among the four major ethnic groups here.



2 Economic Activity of Resident Ever-Married Females (aged 15 years and over)

Source: Census of Population, 2010

While there are many variable factors contributing to this phenomenon, we could infer that there is a strong desire among Malay women to remain at home and look after their dependants, who would most probably be their young children. Given that most of these women are likely to obtain jobs in the lower-income bracket according to other findings, the added financial gains from any salaried employment is seen to be only marginal when compared to the perceived loss of welfare their families may suffer when they go out to work.

Regardless of this, having a dual income family is significant in uplifting the financial status of the MMC. There is a need to look into encouraging more Malay women to enter or re-enter the workforce. It could be in the form of greater household subsidies such as child support or grocery vouchers for the low-income families, to ensure that the gains incurred from their salaried employment are substantial enough to keep them in the workforce and consequently, enhance the social mobility of the community.

Dr Mohamad Shamsuri Juhari is the Centre Director of Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA). The opinions expressed in the article are his own.

This commentary was also published in AMPlified,  Apr– June 2014, Issue 22.

Photo Source: