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Singaporeans most proud of healthcare system, cleanliness; low scores for press freedom, treatment of migrant workers: Study

Singaporeans most proud of healthcare system, cleanliness; low scores for press freedom, treatment of migrant workers: Study

Medical staff outside Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore on Apr 30, 2021. (File photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

  • A study found that on the whole, national pride and identity in Singapore were healthy
  • Most Singaporeans viewed globalisation and immigration positively, but about half felt “immigrants took jobs away"
  • It found that the Singaporean national identity "prioritises social cohesion and stability over individual concerns"

SINGAPORE: The country’s healthcare system, level of cleanliness and armed forces were the strongest sources of pride for Singaporeans, according to a study by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) that examined national pride and identity.

On the other hand, Singapore’s arts, treatment of low-wage migrant workers and level of press freedom were among the weakest sources of pride.

The findings, released on Thursday (Sep 23), were based on responses from about 2,000 citizens and permanent residents from a representative sample of households. They were surveyed between September and November 2020.


Twenty-four sources of pride were listed in the survey, including government autonomy, the social welfare system and economic performance. 

The healthcare system scored the highest marks, with 83.8 per cent of respondents saying they were proud or very proud of it. Cleanliness scored 76.4 per cent for these categories.

The Singapore Armed Forces (78.7 per cent) and the education system (73.3 per cent) also ranked among the top five.

People were "largely proud" of how the country handled the COVID-19 pandemic – more than two-thirds of respondents were proud or very proud of it.

Social and political institutions, such as racial equality and the way democracy is practised here, drew a “modest” level of pride, said IPS.


Singapore's level of press freedom and treatment of low-wage migrant workers were ranked bottom of the list, with only about one-third of respondents saying they were proud or very proud of these.

Scores for pride in Singapore’s sporting achievements and arts were also among the lowest.

Overall, researchers noted that areas respondents were most proud of were those that have seen a "considerable amount of state management and global recognition".

Conversely, weaker sources of pride were ones that have been "well-publicised" as falling short of international benchmarks.

While external validation has given Singapore confidence in its institutions, as well as an international reputation, it also means Singaporeans may not derive pride from local institutions that do not hold such acclaim, said the report.

"Perhaps it is time for serious deliberation to redefine what we can be proud of as a nation – it may not always be what reflects international standing, and its underlying values, but possibly what has local appeal and benefit."

At the same time, areas that Singapore residents are less proud of should deserve "sustained attention", it said.

The study’s principal research fellow, Dr Mathew Mathews, said:For example, the treatment of migrant workers is an important area that has become a lot more salient to more Singaporeans. And I think our collective understanding … should motivate us to try to see what we can do in our own way, and as a collective, to better the treatment of migrant workers."

Researchers also noted “clear demographic differences” in the survey results – such as how highly educated respondents were more likely to be less proud of Singapore’s treatment of migrant workers, “who pose no threat to their employment security”.

“In general, distinctions in pride levels of various domains were mainly observed across education and SES (socio-economic status), rather than age and race,” added the report.


The study also assessed people's perceptions of a range of social issues, all of which “have substantial bearing on national identity” – such as immigration and equality.

More than eight in 10 viewed globalisation positively as it helped the economy and Singapore residents.

In addition, more than 75 per cent of respondents felt immigration was generally good for the economy.

But the report noted: "Just over 50 per cent of respondents agreed to a moderate or great extent that immigrants took jobs away from people in Singapore, and that the Government spent too much money assisting immigrants.”

It added that less-educated respondents and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to perceive a higher economic threat from immigrants.

Dr Matthews noted that concerns over immigration have long been present, and this was no different during the pandemic.

But the findings show that the nation has “come to accept the fact that we are well-related to a broader world” and that globalisation works well for it.

Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser, an academic advisor at IPS, added that the findings taken together show that Singaporeans are “not anti-globalisation” or “anti-immigrants”.

Instead, their unhappiness may relate to policies, or their perception of policies “where they think Singapore can do better”, he said.


To understand the character of Singapore’s national identity, respondents also had to rate values that they believed were important for newcomers who wanted to successfully integrate.

The top values were: Respect for law, tolerance, multiracialism and equality. These support community cohesion, said the study.

This is opposed to values that emphasise individualism, such as self-fulfilment and freedom of speech, which were perceived as least important.

“This reflected that the Singaporean national identity leans towards collectivism and prioritises social cohesion and stability over individual concerns," said the study.

Dr Mike Hou from IPS added that this is an aspect that can “help allow Singaporeans to respond better to immigration in our society”.

As for inequality, more than half of respondents felt that Singapore society was unequal, and almost two in three felt that some Singaporeans were more advantaged than others in achieving success.

About 70 per cent of respondents believed Singapore’s approach to multiracialism works well.

But the study noted that among minorities and younger respondents, more were likely to believe this approach requires improvement.


Respondents could be classified into four broad categories.

About four in 10 were “proud idealists” – with a high degree of national pride and national identification, who strongly viewed Singapore through a positive lens.

But national pride and national identity are distinct, said Dr Hou, noting that one can be highly identified with the group but not feel proud of it.

About one in 10 were “concerned patriots” – with strong national pride and a moderately high degree of national identification, but this group held “the most critical view of fellow Singaporeans”, said the study.

About four in 10 were “moderate idealists” – respondents who were relatively balanced across all variables.

Only 3 per cent of respondents fell within the last cluster – “dispassionate citizens” – who did not have strong national pride nor national identity, showing high levels of apathy.

On the whole, the study showed that national pride and identity in Singapore were “healthy”.

Source: CNA/cl(gs)


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