SINGAPORE: About one in four citizen marriages in Singapore involves a non-resident spouse, according to data released by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) on Thursday (Apr 22).
This ratio has been “relatively constant” for the past 20 years, said an MSF spokesman in response to CNA queries. “However, the composition is evolving.”
The proportion of non-resident grooms increased to 28 per cent in 2019, from 21 per cent in 2000. More than three quarters, or 78 per cent in 2019, have post-secondary qualifications and above, the data showed.
According to the data, the median age of non-resident brides is increasing, and the proportion of younger non-resident brides is decreasing, the MSF spokesman noted.
The proportion of non-resident brides with post-secondary qualifications and above also increased sharply from 36 per cent in 2000 to 66 per cent in 2019, the data showed.
Non-residents here refer to people who are not Singaporeans or permanent residents.
“The changing profile could be due to our increasing cosmopolitan society where there are more foreigners who come here to study and work, and the rising prevalence of global work and travel,” said the MSF spokesman.
“This increases the likelihood of marriages to better-educated foreign spouses. It is likely to also reflect an increasing social and cultural openness of Singaporeans to marry foreign spouses.”
The data also indicates that the lifestyles of Singapore citizen-non resident couples “are not different from other Singaporean couples”, said the spokesman.
The median ages at first marriage of both non-resident brides and grooms also increased, at 29 and 31.3 years old respectively in 2019, up from 26.1 and 30.6 in 2000, the data showed.
This is “comparable” to the overall median ages of brides and grooms at first marriage, 28.8 and 30.4 respectively, the spokesman added.
READ: More overseas citizens returning, fewer marriages: 5 things from Singapore's 2020 population report
“The fact that we have 25 per cent of Singaporeans willing to marry somebody who's not just outside of their race, but outside of their nationality tells us that we have raised our children well. They’re certainly not xenophobic, and they are certainly able to look beyond race and nationality,” said Professor of Sociology at the Singapore Management University Paulin Tay Straughan.
In the 1990s, there were many Singaporean men who were less educated who had difficulties finding a partner, and they looked outside of Singapore for women who were “willing to come” and take on traditional daughter-in-law roles, she added.
Singapore has moved away from that, said Prof Straughan, noting the increasing proportion of non-resident grooms and thus the decreasing proportion of non-resident brides in Singapore Citizen-Non Resident marriages.
“And now, what you see is really just a normal trend of young adults seeking out a soulmate,” she added.
Noting that the average ages at first marriage for non-residents are “not unlike” similar statistics among Singaporean citizens, Prof Straughan said the “inching up of age” is a “reflection of modern marriages”.
“Young adults, they take a longer time getting settled, after getting educated, training, and then seeing returns to their career investments. And then finally, when they are usually … for the women, close to 30 now, then they will finally find somebody whom they feel they can settle down and have a nice life partner with,” she added.
“So these trends are not different, whether it is intercultural marriages, or local marriages. It tells us that in a way it harmonises right, this is a reflection of marriage in modern society.”
While these couples may have different nationalities, there are also “strong harmonising factors”, said Prof Straughan.
EDUCATION LEVEL AS A "HARMONISING" FACTOR
Education is one “very important” harmonising factor, and both individuals in a transnational marriage are likely to have the same levels of education, she added.
“You see that particularly for Singaporean women and foreign husbands. Those who are more educated, they are overrepresented in this group.”
For a marriage to be a sustainable union, there has to be “one common bond”, and the couple must bond on something that is important to both of them, said Prof Straughan.
“Very common for intercultural marriages will be education, because education harmonises our attitudes, our aspirations.”
For Ms Mavis Tan, 42, marrying her husband Mr Graham Edwards in 2010, meant quitting her job and moving to the Philippines with him just months after getting married.
The two met at work in 2010, but Mr Edwards, a British national who is an Australian resident, had a new job opportunity in the Philippines. The company Ms Tan was working for at the time did not have a branch office there and could not offer a transfer.
Mr Edwards, now 52, first moved to Singapore in 1999, and has worked in the Southeast Asian region since. He became a Singapore permanent resident at the start of 2020.
“When I first started dating Graham, my parents were a bit shocked at first because they're quite traditional. I actually brought my mom and my grandmother out on our second date to get their approval. Surprisingly they were very supportive. So my initial concern of whether they could accept this kind of marriage or this kind of relationship was quite unfounded,” Ms Tan told CNA.
“Mavis’ parents and grandmother were very welcoming and open, I found. I didn’t really encounter any sort of suspicion or negativity. That made it very welcoming,” said Mr Edwards.
“At that time I'd been living in Singapore for quite a while, so I was well-immersed in the culture and the way of life here. So like a lot of couples, we met at work.”
The couple, who have a son and daughter aged 8 and 7 respectively, decided to move back to Singapore after six-and-a-half years in the Philippines, so their children could go to school here.
“The reason we came back from the Philippines actually was because of the family. The kids were getting a bit older, and we wanted to put them into the school system here, and also had them spend more time with their grandparents,” said Mr Edwards.
“That definitely affected (our decision), when we came back we made that decision that we were going to put down roots in Singapore. And that then led, in turn, to my application for PR.”
While they are “comfortable” with living in Singapore for now, the couple is not ruling out moving overseas in the future.
“The school systems are really good here but they are quite stressful on the children as well, so I think we will play that one by ear, but obviously we always have the option of moving to Australia through my nationality,” said Mr Edwards.
"AN OPEN SOCIETY"
Couples where the non-resident spouse already has a work pass or visa to stay in Singapore because of their job may face fewer difficulties than non-resident spouses who may be originally living overseas, said Prof Straughan.
Having better employment opportunities, or converting their visas to a “more privileged” one because they have a Singaporean spouse, would make them “feel very welcome”, and they would not even think about having to move away if the relationship fails, she added.
“As Singaporeans when we stay in Singapore, and our founders are Singaporean, we don't think of things like this because for both of us, this is home. So when we fight, we fight, and that’s it. Even if you divorce, we are still Singaporean,” said Prof Straughan.
“It’s a bit different when you’re not Singaporean, because you also want to make sure that we make it easier for the foreign spouses to come here and to invest their careers and their lives here. Don't make them feel like a guest all the time, dependent on their Singaporean spouse.”
With more transnational marriages here, there is a worry that Singaporeans could “lose our sons and daughters” who choose to live in their non-resident spouse’s home country or elsewhere, said Prof Straughan.
“That's something that we are mindful of. And therefore, I think we have to pay a lot more attention to our creed of being an open society.”
Singaporeans should be “more acutely aware” that there may be foreign spouses in neighbourhoods and in young families, she added.
“And therefore, I think, not assume that everybody is just Singaporean and therefore don't need to pay too much attention to cultural induction and cultural sensitivities and so forth.”
Transnational marriages will also result in bicultural children, she added.
“These children … We have to make sure that they would feel welcome and that they can see themselves and their history in our Singapore narrative. And that they would be welcome to paint their narrative,” said Prof Straughan.
“Otherwise, your bicultural children will feel like ‘I don’t belong here’, and then therefore they will look elsewhere to invest their lives in because they find that they can’t call this home.
“How we treat their parents, and how we treat them will be very important moving forward.”