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IPS to embark on Singapore's first long-term study of family

What makes or breaks a family and what are the policies needed to nurture resilient families in Singapore? A team of researchers will embark on Singapore's first wide-scale, long-term study to find the answers.

SINGAPORE: It is an ambitious project by the Institute of Policy Studies' (IPS) newly formed Social Lab. 5,000 families will be interviewed every year, for at least three years. Researchers are casting their net wide to include even non-traditional families - like those with step-children, childless couples, single parents, and even absent-parent families. 

The focus is on social mobility and family resilience. Respondents will be asked questions like: How many times a week do they have meals together as a family? What is their most common mode of communication?

The survey will also look at care-giving issues and significant life events. For example, who takes care of vulnerable family members? And what significant life changes has a particular household faced in the past 12 months?

"This is a longitudinal study, so we aim to track the same family over a long period of time," explained Dr Leong Chan-Hoong, the Deputy Head of Social Lab at the IPS. "We would like to have a better sensing of what are the risk factors and the protective factors that enable the family and the family members to survive, and to meet the daily challenges and what happens to a family when they encounter significant life events, or significant life changes, and how they overcome this."

Tracking the same families for an extended period will also help researchers pinpoint factors that may hinder or help disadvantaged families move up the socio-economic ladder. "We do recognise that not all families start at the same level and base line. Certain families they enjoy the advantage of resources whereas other families do not.

"So we would like to understand what are the factors - the enabling factors that allow the families from disadvantaged families to move up the socio-economic ladder and the only way to do that is only through a panel study that tracks the families for a long period of time, so that you are able to better understand what are the risk factors and protective factors that enable them to do so," said Dr Leong.

Researchers say the findings will allow policymakers to assess the effectiveness of policies over time.

Similar studies have been conducted in economies like Taiwan, the US and Indonesia, to help governments address long-term social problems. In Singapore, Dr Leong anticipates that the challenge would be in first getting families to agree to participate in this long-term study. 

Families will be randomly selected based on a sample by the Department of Statistics. The study is expected to start in October.

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