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Singapore in Numbers - Singapore Household Expenditure Survey 2017/18

As part of what we do at FYT, we constantly scour for publicly available datasets upon which we develop our case examples, class exercises, proof of concept and in some cases as part of the research we do for our clients. I am constantly surprised by the level of detail as well as the interesting insights about life in Singapore.

In February 2019, Channelnews Asia reported that Singapore households incomes grew and that income inequality is stable. the findings were some of the headlines gleaned from the recently published household expenditure survey for 2017/18 by the press. In this segment, FYT will dig into the report to glean deeper insights into the matter.

Data from the current (2018) and last 2 surveys (2013 & 2008), the data does show that household income has indeed been growing faster than household expenditure...on average. Between 2008 and 2018, household income grew by 45% while household expenditure only grew by 28%; which suggests that Singapore Households have more excess income on hand.

That may be true on average and is good news for Singapore households in general; but averages also hide a lot of detail. Was this trend applicable across ALL households in Singapore, or did it apply to only certain segments among Singapore households?

Data suggest that for most households, the statement holds true; household incomes have indeed been growing faster than expenditure. But this is not the case for the bottom 20% (Quintile) by household income. Data suggest that their income is insufficient to support their costs of living; and this has been the case since 2008 and continues to be the case in the 2018 survey. Their household expenditure is roughly 15% more than their income in the 2018 survey; which suggest that they are either depleting their savings or incurring debt each month.

But not all in the lowest quintile are living beyond their means. Data suggests that roughly 30% or about 82,000 households have household expenditures that exceed their income. In some cases, households have been known to spend much, much more than their income; 6% of households in the lowest quintile spend 3 times or more than their income.

Dwelling type plays a part; so does living arrangements

  • Households in the lowest quintile living who live in a 5 room or executive apartment or private property are more likely to be living significantly beyond their income.

  • Households in the lowest quintile who are living in non couples based units, have no children or have a head of household older than 65 tend to have living beyond their income.

On the bright side, most households have access to many modern day household conveniences; such as washing machines, refrigerators, televisions and ubiquitous mobile phones. That is good news for households in the lowest quintile; these modern day convenience help them meet some of the daily challenges today. But the data suggests that there are still some challenges in helping the next generation rise beyond their current circumstances; more specifically, access to computing resources. In a Singapore that is building a "Smart Nation" where digital skills will be well sought after and is clearly evident even in Singapore's education system; data show that only half as many in the lowest quintile have access to laptops, tablets and desktop computers.

Address income equality is clearly on the agenda for Singapore and most agree that those in the lower income groups could do with some help, especially when living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. But all in the lowest quintile are living beyond their means; those that do tend to be older, living without children or living in non-couple family units; or living in larger dwellings. But some are even spending 3 times or more than their monthly income; how can be sustainable? The analysis may not provide clear answers to the income inequality landscape at this time; but it does give us a better idea of who they are and the circumstances they are living in. Sometimes the best outcome from analytics is not answer; but a better question.

For more information about this analysis and the household expenditure survey , click on any of the charts above.

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