Will Singapore experience China’s ‘lie flat’ phenomenon amongst its young with seemingly increasing social and economic challenges?
Overwhelming social and economic challenges
‘Lying Flat’ or ‘Tang Ping’ (躺平) is a phenomenon that emerged in China in 2021. It describes the disappointment of the generation born in the late 90s and early 2000s on the lack of social mobility and economic stagnation. As a result of this, they are not willing to strive for their future: Hard work, home ownership, marriage, high living standards that were much sought-after by past generations are no longer valued or followed.
In China, as much as their government tried to ‘restore’ the good old values, it has not the needle move against the ‘Lying flat’ movement. China has experienced 40 years of economic prosperity, but it is seeing its economic growth slow in the recent decade. Could this be the reason Chinese youths choose to ‘lie flat’?
Youths are feeling frustrated in China – from the increasing tensions between itself and the United States, to repeated lockdowns due to its strict zero-covid policy, to a looming property crisis and declining employment for unskilled workers. There seems to be good reasons for Chinese youths to be frustrated about their future.
China has modified its one-child policy to two-children policy back in 2015 as their population faces rapid aging. But Chinese couples still aren’t willing to have more babies – it recorded the lowest number of births in 2021 across several provinces. High cost of living and work pressure were among some main reasons why young couples choose not to have children. In 2020, the policy was modified again to allow women to have three children. But it still did not help.
‘Lying Flat’ has real concerns in multiple dimensions. Economists worry that the movement would repel foreign investors, and with a declining population, labour productivity is expected to decrease in tandem.
Looking at Singapore’s situation as compared to China’s, we should be wary of the eerie parallels that are ‘falling into place.’
HDB (Housing Development Board) resale flat prices climbed for the 27th consecutive month in September 2022, with 45 units successfully sold for at least S$1 million in September alone. It was to the extent that the Government had to step in and impose property curbs to cool the public housing market.
There was also growing sentiment amongst the masses that Singapore’s property was becoming unaffordable for the masses. This was raised by Mr Yip Hon Weng, Member of Parliament (MP) for Yio Chu Kang in parliament.
Birth Rates: Fertility Woes
Even amid the Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020 and continued work-from-home arrangements, Singapore did not see a baby boom. Singapore was not alone in this trend – figures around the world showed a ‘baby drought’ during this period. Singapore’s total fertility rate was at a historic low of 1.1 in 2020, slightly recovering to 1.12 in 2021. This is still worrying as a fertility rate of 2.1 is required for a population to replace itself.
A nation of unhappy workers
Singaporeans are stressed out. In a mental health survey commissioned by CNA, burnout was the leading factor affecting mental health during the pandemic – with up to 57% of respondents choosing it as a factor.
Reasons to be optimistic
Housing, Marriages, Birth Rates
Covid-19 restrictions has caused much disruption to the BTO (Built-To-Order) flats as almost every project faced delays (from 6 to 12 months) as a result of foreign manpower shrinking in the construction sector. Private construction was not spared from delays either. With the easing of Covid-19 related restrictions, the number of BTO projects delayed by six months or more is now 58 compared to 74 the same time last year.
HDB (Housing Development Board) is aiming to launch up to 23,000 new flats yearly in 2022 and 2023, which will reduce the median waiting time for new BTO projects to slightly above four years.
In response to the growing sentiment amongst the masses that Singapore’s property was becoming unaffordable for the masses, Mr Desmond Lee, Minister for National Development responded that BTOs remain affordable based on the affordability benchmarks used by MND. The affordability benchmark includes home price-to-income ratios and the proportion of monthly income that buyers use to service mortgage instalment payments. These figures remain lower compared to international benchmarks.
Singapore households are becoming smaller, and more are getting married after the easing of Covid-19, which led to the robust demand for housing in both the BTOs and resale flat market. During the period where we saw many Covid-19 restrictions, fewer marriages and births was observed in Singapore – many chose to postpone their marriage and parenthood plans. It almost hit the all-time-low number of marriages recorded in 1986!
We should have confidence that the sharp and robust demand will eventually ease as we ‘move along.’
Unhappy with a job v.s. unhappy without a job
In the mental health survey commissioned by CNA, while Singaporeans felt that ‘burnout’ was affecting their mental health, respondents in Indonesia and Malaysia quoted the financial burden from the loss of income as the main factor affecting their mental health. In other words, Singaporeans are ‘overworked’ while Indonesians and Malaysians are worried about unemployment. That’s two distinct sets of problems.
It’s not unusual for anyone to feel uncertainty, or not seeing a bright future when the pandemic first struck. How many of us have been through a pandemic and knew what to expect? The inability to travel was stifling for many of us and made us feel unfree. But we do feel that things are getting better, don’t we? Mask restrictions are easing, and the peak of the XBB variant of Covid-19 has peaked and is slowly coming down.
We will not ‘lie flat.’
Things are getting better on the Covid-related front. We can travel again to ease our minds and just take a break from the daily hustle for ourselves, our family, our loved ones. Earlier this month, DPM Lawrence Wong mentioned that the Government is reviewing multiple policies to help grow families – which includes housing policies to help first-time home buyers secure a flat quickly.
On the social front, tripartite partners, which include the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) called for practices such as working from home and staggered hours at the workplace to be made permanent features. NTUC has also renewed calls for women workers to be better supported at workplaces, especially women who intend to return to the workforce. It has also called for unemployment support for PME (Professionals, Managers and Executives) workers to help them tide through their temporary bout of unemployment. While they can lobby and advocate, we need employers to respond positively and make real changes to the place we call home.
As the Forward Singapore exercise progresses, it can be expected that details of changes and plans would begin surfacing in 2023. That is something we can look forward to. Young Singaporeans will not ‘lie flat’ if Singapore can renew social and economic opportunities for the younger generation, and generations to come.
Workers of Singapore
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A young Singaporean concerned about issues workers face. As humans, we spend a third of our lives sleeping and recharging, and another third for our personal life, and the last third at work (based on a 24-hr distribution). That’s why we should pay attention to issues surrounding work.