FROM ONE perspective, Singapore is a singleton’s paradise. Young adults can often live rent-free, waited on by doting servants, in exchange for little more than an occasional hug. The secret of this cushy lifestyle is to live with one’s parents, as many Singaporeans do well into their 30s. They are encouraged by the government, which is fond of extolling family values. Housing policy makes it difficult for young people to untie the apron-strings, argues Wei-Jun Jean Yeung of the National University of Singapore. Almost 80% of Singaporeans live in subsidised public housing. They do not become eligible for a flat of their own until they marry or turn 35.
Yet a small but growing number of Singaporeans are defying the nanny state. Between 1990 and 2020 the number of those under 35 who lived alone or with non-family members grew from 33,400 to 51,300. Since they do not qualify for public housing, they must rent in the private sector. This once catered almost exclusively to expats, but no more. At one property company, CP Residences, the number of Singaporean tenants rose from an average of 90 between 2014 and 2019 to 658 this year. At another, Cove, it went from ten in 2019 to 142 today, 83% of them between 21 and 40 years old.
One factor is that Singaporeans are getting married later. In 1980 the average ages at which men and women tied the knot were 27 and 24; today they are 30 and 29. A growing number choose not to marry at all. Some would like to wed but cannot, because Singapore does not recognise same-sex marriage.
For others it was covid-19 that pushed them out of the nest. Serene Chee, a 25-year-old lawyer, did not greatly mind living with her parents until travel restrictions and work-from-home policies kept her stuck at home all the time. “Life just felt intensely stagnant,” she says. In June Ms Chee and a friend moved into an apartment together.
Fending for yourself takes getting used to. First you must inform your parents. It took Lydia Yang, an illustrator who was then 28, three months to pluck up the courage. Then you must learn to pay bills and do basic chores. When Lenne Chai, a photographer, moved out seven years ago at the tender age of 23, she did not know how to cook: “I could barely make Maggie Mee [instant noodles]!” Not every “emerging adult”, as Ms Yeung calls them, is so valiant. The mother of one 31-year-old civil servant does his laundry and colour-codes his wardrobe every week.
Life on your own can be lonely. Ms Yang found it “a bit depressing”, particularly during lockdown. But living apart may improve relationships. Both Ms Yang and Ms Chai say that they got on better with their parents after moving out. When cooped up, they paid each other little attention. Now their weekly visits are “quality time”, says Ms Chai. When Ms Chee’s parents came to her flat for dinner recently, they were impressed by how tidy it was. “Parents in general just think that their kids are their kids for ever,” she says. When they see them carving out lives for themselves, “they’re like ‘Oh, actually, they can do it’.”
This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “More young people are flying the nest”