In our last segment we have established that while Singapore income inequality has been lower than it has ever been in the last decade, it remains high by global standards among developed economies. In this segment, we explore the similarities and difference in how the rich and poor households live; more specifically, comparisons will be made between the top and the bottom 10% as well as median household incomes in Singapore.
Household Income Profile
The median household income in 2015 was $8,666
Most households have an average of about 4 members up to the 70th percentile, upper income households tend to have smaller household sizes
As a result, household income per member for higher income households tend to be disproportionally higher
Most households have an average of two working persons, but lower income households also have fewer people working
As a result, wage earners in low income households tend to have more people to support
Each wage earner supports 2.7 persons in the household in the bottom 10% versus only 1.5 persons among the top 10%
As we would expect, there are distinct differences between high and low-income households; the main difference is that the differences are now quantified.
Low income households have similar sized households as most of Singapore but have fewer people working and thus a greater burden to the wage earner who not only earns less but also have more people to support.
High income households tend to have smaller households, and have an average of 2 working persons. With a higher income and fewer household members the resources available to each member is more generous
Unfortunately, household income data alone only confirms what we already know; high income households have more economic resources; but it tells us little more about how they live and how they came upon their economic circumstances.
How households live by their income decile
It is no surprise that lower income households tend to live in smaller public housing units and higher income households tend to live in more expensive private properties. But there are notable exceptions:
Age of the head of household
Lower income households tend to have older heads of households while higher income households tend to be younger
Of Cars and Maids…
41.4% of Singapore households own at least 1 car and 13.5% of Singapore households have at least 1 maid in the household
The likelihood of having at least one car and at least one maid increases with household income; but it appears that car ownership is more prevalent across households in Singapore
7.8% of the bottom 10% of households employ at least 1 maid, vs 17.9% for the top 10%
However, 16% of the bottom 10% of households own at least one car, vs 67% for the top 10%
As at 2015, there are 1.225 million households, 231,500 foreign domestic workers and 602,000 private cars in Singapore
Data suggest that some of those in the lowest household income decile appear to be living quite well; some live in private property, some own cars and some employ maids. But household incomes only refer to the incomes currently earned at a point in time, it provides no insight to the wealth already accumulated (FYT will cover this aspect in a different episode of this series). Perhaps many in the lowest household income decile used to earn good incomes and are currently in retirement and drawing down their accumulated wealth (insurance policies, investments, cash etc.) and their private property and cars were what they used to own before retirement. Maids on the other hand, may be a new reality for a quickly ageing Singapore regardless of household income. Data suggests that the number of households with at least 1 maid has grown since 2005, particularly for the lower household income deciles.
It is easy to pass judgement our respective perceptions of the lifestyles of either or both the high and low-income households. But as the data shows, low and high-income households, and everything in between, cannot be painted with the same brush. It much more crucial to understand how they got to where they are and what can policy makers do to empower lower income households to move up the income deciles. Broad stroke policies targeted at too wide a group often fail to help the intended group and is sometimes ends up being abused; but FYT believes that further investments in analytics can help.
Did any of the above metrics surprise you about Singapore?