14 Dec 2005

Mindset changes needed to tackle falling marriage rates: sociologist

Follow-up to the previous article on "More marriages, less divorces in 2004"

By Julia Ng, Channel NewsAsia

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More marriages, fewer divorces in 2004

SINGAPORE : The total number of registered marriages might have increased by 1 percent last year, according to the latest Department of Statistics' Report on Marriages and Divorces.

But that same report also says marriage rates have fallen across all age groups in the last decade (1994 to 2004).

This means that Singaporeans are still delaying marriage, and the number of singles is set to grow even bigger.

More than 16,100 Singapore men got married last year, but only about 12,500 of them to Singaporean women.

The rest - some 3,500 - took foreign brides.

The report also showed that compared to 10 years ago, more Singapore men - with secondary education or less - married women who were better educated.

But that, according to sociologist Professor Paulin Straughan, does not mean they have overcome the stigma of 'marrying upwards'.

In fact, fewer Singapore women married 'downwards' in the last decade.

So where did those men find their brides?

Possibly from the region, says Professor Straughan.

Many of them are well-educated women who see marrying Singapore men as a form of social mobility, and a way out of the poverty cycle back home.

Professor Paulin Straughan, Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore, said, "Rather than a mindset change, they're actually looking outwards and marrying foreign women, who're willing to still play a traditional role because their Singapore counterparts are not willing to settle for these roles...that is to become home care givers, domestic managers, focused on childcare and eldercare.

"That tells me that they're still holding on to traditional values. So that leaves older single women in some kind of a bind, because then where do they go in order to find a spouse? So that's why the statistics indicated these two groups are finding it harder to get married and so age at first marriage (is) going up."

And where 20 years ago, graduate women were said to be the ones who delayed marriage, now it is the less-educated who are marrying later.

Professor Straughan said, "Both men and women are delaying marriage, so the age at first marriage for both the brides and the grooms with primary school education or lower, is high...much higher than those in the university cohort."

In fact, non-Muslim brides and grooms with primary or no education were the oldest -
women tied the knot only when they were about 30 years old, and men when they were 37.

In contrast, among the Muslim brides, university graduates were the oldest - with an average marrying age of 28 years.

And the decade-old trends of delayed marriages and rising singlehood are set to continue, with serious implications on social planning.

Professor Straughan said, "It means that if we're planning, for example, services for the elderly for the future, we really have to put a lot more in place than what we have now because you're going to have a lot more older people, older adults who have no spouses and children to fall back on."

The good news, however, is that the divorce rate has dropped from an all-time high in 2003.

More people are also remarrying, a sign that Singaporeans may have overcome the stigma of divorce.

Sociologists say, going forward, Singapore needs to continue to push for better work-life balance, and promote marriage and family values as worthy investments, as equally important as one's career. - CNA/ms

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