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Singapore-Family, Marriage, and Divorce

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Singapore Index

Almost all Singaporeans lived in small nuclear families. Although both Chinese and Indian traditions favored large extended families, such families were always rare in immigrant Singapore where neither the occupational structure, based on wage labor, or the housing pattern, characterized by small, rented quarters, favored such family forms. In the 1980s, families were important in that most individuals as a matter of course lived with their parents until marriage and after marriage maintained a high level of interaction with parents, brothers, and sisters. Probably the most common leisure activity in Singapore was the Sunday visit to the grandparents for a meal and relaxed conversation with brothers, sisters, in-laws, uncles and aunts, cousins, and other assorted kin. Although the age of marriage increased in the 1970s and 1980s, reaching a mean 28.5 years for grooms and 25.8 years for brides in 1987, Singapore remained a society in which it was assumed that everyone would marry, and marriage was a normal aspect of fully adult status.

Both ethnicity and class affected the form and functioning of families. Chinese and Indian families rested on cultural assumptions of the permanence of marriage and of the household as an ongoing, corporate group whose members, bound by duty, obligation, and subordination, pooled and shared income. The continued efforts of Indian parents to arrange the marriages or at least to influence the marital choices of their offspring and the Tamil obligation to provide daughters with large dowries reflected such cultural definitions of family and household. In a similar manner, some Chinese combined the household with the family enterprise, practicing a traditional entrepreneurial strategy that included mobilizing the savings of all household members and allocating them in accord with a long-term plan for family success. Such a strategy might take the form of a thriving business with branches in the major cities of Malaysia and Indonesia, or of sons and daughters employed in the Singapore civil service, a large foreign bank, or a university in Australia.

Malay families, on the other hand, gave priority to the individual and to individual interests. They viewed relations between siblings as tenuous and saw the household as a possibly short-lived coalition of autonomous individuals linked by sentiments of mutual concern and affection. Malays had traditionally had much higher rates of divorce and adoption than other ethnic groups, and the distinction continued in the 1980s although the divorce rate was lower than in the l940s or through the l960s. More significantly, for the Malays divorce was regarded as a realistic and normal, although unfortunate, possibility in all marriages. Because Malays did not define the household as a continuing body, they did not make long-range strategic plans to maximize family income and success. In Malay families, husbands, wives, and children with jobs held separate purses and sometimes separate savings accounts. It was thus difficult for Malays to establish family businesses as the Chinese and the Indians did.

Class affected families in a manner generally similar to many other industrialized societies. In all ethnic groups, lower-class or working-class people tended to be dependent on kin outside the immediate household for a wide range of services, and to operate wide networks of mutual assistance and gift exchange. Throughout the 1980s, kin provided the bulk of child care for married women working in factories. Such relatives were paid for their services, but less than a stranger would have been paid. The possibility of such support often determined whether a woman took a job outside the home, and thus demonstrated the relation between large numbers of kin and material comfort and security. Substantial sums of money were passed back and forth on such occasions as the birthdays of aged parents, the birth of children, or the move into a new apartment. Family members were a major source of information on and referrals to jobs for many unskilled or semiskilled workers. Relations with the extended circle of relatives were not always harmonious or happy, but they were important and necessary to the welfare and comfort of most working-class families.

Middle- and upper-class households were less dependent on kin networks for support. They maintained close ties with parents and siblings, but did not need to rely on them. Indeed their relations with their extended kin often were more amiable than those of the lower-class households, where mutual need often was accompanied by disputes over allocation of such resources as grandparents' childcare services, or of the costs of supporting elderly parents and other dependent kin. Middle- and upper-class households spent more leisure time with people who were not their relatives and gained much of their social support from networks based on common schooling, occupation, and associational memberships. In such families, the bond between husband and wife was close as they shared more interests and activities than most workingclass couples and made more decisions jointly.

Marriages across ethnic lines occurred, but not often. Between 1954 and 1984, intermarriage rates remained at a s; table 5 to 6 percent of all marriages. None of the traditional cultures encouraged marriage outside the group. The Hindu traditions of caste endogamy and the Malay insistence on conversion to Islam as a condition of marriage were major barriers to intermarriage. Shared religion encouraged intermarriage, with marriages between Malays and Indian Muslims the most common form of ethnic intermarriage. Interethnic marriages included a disproportionate number of divorced or widowed individuals.

Divorce rates in Singapore were low. Interethnic marriages were somewhat more likely to end in divorce than were marriages within an ethnic group. During the 1980s the divorce rate for Malays fell, while it rose for the other ethnic groups. In 1987 there were 23,404 marriages in Singapore, and 2,708 divorces, or 115 divorces for every 1,000 marriages. The figures included 4,465 marriages under the Muslim Law Act, which regulated the marriage, divorce, and inheritance of Muslims, and 796 divorces under the same act, for a Muslim divorce rate of 178 divorces for every 1,000 marriages. Marriages under the Women's Charter (which regulated the marriage and divorce of non-Muslims) totaled 18,939, and divorces under that law were 1,912, for a non-Muslim divorce rate of 100 per 1,000 marriages. The differential rates of divorce for ethnic groups may have suggested greater differences than were in fact the case. Situations that for Malay families resulted in prompt, legal divorce were sometimes tolerated or handled informally by Chinese or Indian families for whom the social stigma of divorce was greater and the barriers to legal separation higher. For all ethnic groups, the most common source of marital breakdown was the inability or unwillingness of the husband to contribute to maintaining the household. This sometimes led to desertion, which was the most common ground for divorce.

Data as of December 1989

BackgroundSingapore was founded as a British trading colony in 1819. It joined the Malaysian Federation in 1963 but separated two years later and became independent. Singapore subsequently became one of the world's most prosperous countries with strong international trading links (its port is one of the world's busiest in terms of tonnage handled) and with per capita GDP equal to that of the leading nations of Western Europe.
LocationSoutheastern Asia, islands between Malaysia and Indonesia
Area(sq km)total: 697 sq km
land: 687 sq km
water: 10 sq km
Geographic coordinates1 22 N, 103 48 E
Land boundaries(km)0 km

Coastline(km)193 km

Climatetropical; hot, humid, rainy; two distinct monsoon seasons - Northeastern monsoon (December to March) and Southwestern monsoon (June to September); inter-monsoon - frequent afternoon and early evening thunderstorms

Elevation extremes(m)lowest point: Singapore Strait 0 m
highest point: Bukit Timah 166 m
Natural resourcesfish, deepwater ports
Land use(%)arable land: 1.47%
permanent crops: 1.47%
other: 97.06% (2005)

Irrigated land(sq km)NA
Total renewable water resources(cu km)0.6 cu km (1975)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural)total: 0.19 cu km/yr (45%/51%/4%)
per capita: 44 cu m/yr (1975)
Natural hazardsNA
Environment - current issuesindustrial pollution; limited natural fresh water resources; limited land availability presents waste disposal problems; seasonal smoke/haze resulting from forest fires in Indonesia
Environment - international agreementsparty to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - notefocal point for Southeast Asian sea routes
Population4,657,542 (July 2009 est.)
Age structure(%)0-14 years: 14.4% (male 348,382/female 324,050)
15-64 years: 76.7% (male 1,737,972/female 1,833,415)
65 years and over: 8.9% (male 184,393/female 229,330) (2009 est.)
Median age(years)total: 39 years
male: 38.5 years
female: 39.4 years (2009 est.)
Population growth rate(%)0.998% (2009 est.)
Birth rate(births/1,000 population)8.82 births/1,000 population (2009 est.)
Death rate(deaths/1,000 population)4.66 deaths/1,000 population (July 2009 est.)

Net migration rate(migrant(s)/1,000 population)5.82 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2009 est.)
Urbanization(%)urban population: 100% of total population (2008)
rate of urbanization: 1.2% annual rate of change (2005-10 est.)
Sex ratio(male(s)/female)at birth: 1.08 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.08 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.95 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.8 male(s)/female
total population: 0.95 male(s)/female (2009 est.)
Infant mortality rate(deaths/1,000 live births)total: 2.31 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 2.51 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 2.09 deaths/1,000 live births (2009 est.)

Life expectancy at birth(years)total population: 81.98 years
male: 79.37 years
female: 84.78 years (2009 est.)

Total fertility rate(children born/woman)1.09 children born/woman (2009 est.)
Nationalitynoun: Singaporean(s)
adjective: Singapore
Ethnic groups(%)Chinese 76.8%, Malay 13.9%, Indian 7.9%, other 1.4% (2000 census)

Religions(%)Buddhist 42.5%, Muslim 14.9%, Taoist 8.5%, Hindu 4%, Catholic 4.8%, other Christian 9.8%, other 0.7%, none 14.8% (2000 census)
Languages(%)Mandarin 35%, English 23%, Malay 14.1%, Hokkien 11.4%, Cantonese 5.7%, Teochew 4.9%, Tamil 3.2%, other Chinese dialects 1.8%, other 0.9% (2000 census)

Country nameconventional long form: Republic of Singapore
conventional short form: Singapore
local long form: Republic of Singapore
local short form: Singapore
Government typeparliamentary republic
Capitalname: Singapore
geographic coordinates: 1 17 N, 103 51 E
time difference: UTC+8 (13 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Administrative divisionsnone
Constitution3 June 1959; amended 1965 (based on pre-independence State of Singapore Constitution)

Legal systembased on English common law; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Suffrage21 years of age; universal and compulsory
Executive branchchief of state: President S R NATHAN (since 1 September 1999)
note: uses S R NATHAN but his full name and the one used in formal communications is Sellapan RAMANATHAN
head of government: Prime Minister LEE Hsien Loong (since 12 August 2004); Senior Minister GOH Chok Tong (since 12 August 2004); Senior Minister Shunmugam JAYAKUMAR (since 1 April 2009); Minister Mentor LEE Kuan Yew (since 12 August 2004); Deputy Prime Minister TEO Chee Huan (since 1 April 2009) and Deputy Prime Minister WONG Kan Seng (since 1 September 2005)
cabinet: appointed by president, responsible to parliament
elections: president elected by popular vote for six-year term; appointed on 17 August 2005 (next election to be held by August 2011); following legislative elections, leader of majority party or leader of majority coalition is usually appointed prime minister by president; deputy prime ministers appointed by president
election results: Sellapan Rama (S R) NATHAN appointed president in August 2005 after Presidential Elections Committee disqualified three other would-be candidates; scheduled election not held
Legislative branchunicameral Parliament (84 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms); note - in addition, there are up to nine nominated members; up to three losing opposition candidates who came closest to winning seats may be appointed as "nonconstituency" members
elections: last held on 6 May 2006 (next to be held by 2011)
election results: percent of vote by party - PAP 66.6%, WP 16.3%, SDA 13%, SDP 4.1%; seats by party - PAP 82, WP 1, SDA 1

Judicial branchSupreme Court (chief justice is appointed by the president with the advice of the prime minister, other judges are appointed by the president with the advice of the chief justice); Court of Appeals

Political pressure groups and leadersnone
Flag descriptiontwo equal horizontal bands of red (top) and white; near the hoist side of the red band, there is a vertical, white crescent (closed portion is toward the hoist side) partially enclosing five white five-pointed stars arranged in a circle

Economy - overviewSingapore has a highly developed and successful free-market economy. It enjoys a remarkably open and corruption-free environment, stable prices, and a per capita GDP higher than that of most developed countries. The economy depends heavily on exports, particularly in consumer electronics, information technology products, pharmaceuticals, and on a growing service sector. Real GDP growth averaged 7% between 2004 and 2007, but dropped to 1.1% in 2008 as a result of the global financial crisis. The economy contracted in the last three quarters of 2008. Prime Minister LEE and other senior officials have dampened expectations for a quick rebound in 2009. Over the longer term, the government hopes to establish a new growth path that will be less vulnerable to global demand cycles especially for information technology products. It has attracted major investments in pharmaceuticals and medical technology production and will continue efforts to establish Singapore as Southeast Asia's financial and high-tech hub.
GDP (purchasing power parity)$237.9 billion (2008 est.)
$235.3 billion (2007 est.)
$218.3 billion (2006 est.)
note: data are in 2008 US dollars
GDP (official exchange rate)$181.9 billion (2008 est.)
GDP - real growth rate(%)1.1% (2008 est.)
7.8% (2007 est.)
8.4% (2006 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP)$51,600 (2008 est.)
$51,700 (2007 est.)
$48,600 (2006 est.)
note: data are in 2008 US dollars
GDP - composition by sector(%)agriculture: 0%
industry: 27.8%
services: 72.2% (2008 est.)
Labor force2.94 million (2008 est.)

Labor force - by occupation(%)agriculture 0%, industry 22.6%, services 77.4% (2007)
Unemployment rate(%)2.2% (2008 est.)
2.1% (2007 est.)
Population below poverty line(%)NA%
Household income or consumption by percentage share(%)lowest 10%: 4.4%
highest 10%: 23.2% (2008)
Distribution of family income - Gini index48.1 (2008)
Investment (gross fixed)(% of GDP)28.5% of GDP (2008 est.)
Budgetrevenues: $29.25 billion
expenditures: $26.48 billion (2008 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices)(%)6.5% (2008 est.)
2.1% (2007 est.)

Stock of money$52.57 billion (31 December 2008)
$44.4 billion (31 December 2007)
Stock of quasi money$179 billion (31 December 2008)
$162.2 billion (31 December 2007)
Stock of domestic credit$143.6 billion (31 December 2008)
$129.2 billion (31 December 2007)
Market value of publicly traded shares$268.6 billion (31 December 2008)
$353.5 billion (31 December 2007)
$276.3 billion (31 December 2006)
Economic aid - recipient$0 (2007)

Public debt(% of GDP)99.2% of GDP (2008 est.)
102.5% of GDP (2004 est.)
Agriculture - productsorchids, vegetables; poultry, eggs; fish, ornamental fish
Industrieselectronics, chemicals, financial services, oil drilling equipment, petroleum refining, rubber processing and rubber products, processed food and beverages, ship repair, offshore platform construction, life sciences, entrepot trade

Industrial production growth rate(%)-0.8% (2008 est.)

Current account balance$25.78 billion (2008 est.)
$39.11 billion (2007 est.)
Exports$342.7 billion (2008 est.)
$303.1 billion (2007 est.)

Exports - commodities(%)machinery and equipment (including electronics), consumer goods, pharmaceuticals and other chemicals, mineral fuels
Exports - partners(%)Malaysia 12.1%, Indonesia 10.5%, Hong Kong 10.3%, China 9.2%, US 7.1%, Japan 4.9%, Australia 4.1% (2008)
Imports$309.6 billion (2008 est.)
$254 billion (2007 est.)

Imports - commodities(%)machinery and equipment, mineral fuels, chemicals, foodstuffs, consumer goods
Imports - partners(%)Malaysia 11.9%, US 11.8%, China 10.5%, Japan 8.1%, South Korea 5.6%, Indonesia 5.5%, Saudi Arabia 4.6% (2008)

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold$174.2 billion (31 December 2008 est.)
$163 billion (31 December 2007 est.)
Debt - external$25.52 billion (31 December 2008 est.)
$25.59 billion (31 December 2007 est.)

Stock of direct foreign investment - at home$250.2 billion (31 December 2008 est.)
$232.8 billion (31 December 2007 est.)
Stock of direct foreign investment - abroad$173.6 billion (31 December 2008 est.)
$169.9 billion (31 December 2007 est.)
Exchange ratesSingapore dollars (SGD) per US dollar - 1.415 (2008 est.), 1.507 (2007), 1.5889 (2006), 1.6644 (2005), 1.6902 (2004)

Currency (code)Singapore dollar (SGD)

Telephones - main lines in use1.857 million (2008)
Telephones - mobile cellular6.375 million (2008)
Telephone systemgeneral assessment: excellent service
domestic: excellent domestic facilities; launched 3G wireless service in February 2005; combined fixed-line and mobile-cellular teledensity is nearly 175 telephones per 100 persons
international: country code - 65; numerous submarine cables provide links throughout Asia, Australia, the Middle East, Europe, and US; satellite earth stations -4; supplemented by VSAT coverage (2008)
Internet country code.sg
Internet users3.37 million (2008)
Airports8 (2009)
Pipelines(km)gas 106 km (2008)
Roadways(km)total: 3,297 km
paved: 3,297 km (includes 150 km of expressways) (2007)

Ports and terminalsSingapore
Military branchesSingapore Armed Forces: Army, Navy, Air Force (includes Air Defense) (2009)
Military service age and obligation(years of age)18-21 years of age for male compulsory military service; 16 years of age for volunteers; 2-year conscript service obligation, with a reserve obligation to age 40 (enlisted) or age 50 (officers) (2008)
Manpower available for military servicemales age 16-49: 1,277,862 (2008 est.)
Manpower fit for military servicemales age 16-49: 1,033,961
females age 16-49: 1,104,952 (2009 est.)
Manpower reaching militarily significant age annuallymale: 27,715
female: 26,290 (2009 est.)
Military expenditures(% of GDP)4.9% of GDP (2005 est.)
Disputes - internationaldisputes persist with Malaysia over deliveries of fresh water to Singapore, Singapore's extensive land reclamation works, bridge construction, and maritime boundaries in the Johor and Singapore Straits; in November 2007, the ICJ will hold public hearings as a consequence of the Memorials and Countermemorials filed by the parties in 2003 and 2005 over sovereignty of Pedra Branca Island/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge; Indonesia and Singapore continue to work on finalization of their 1973 maritime boundary agreement by defining unresolved areas north of Indonesia's Batam Island; piracy remains a problem in the Malacca Strait

Electricity - production(kWh)38.67 billion kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - production by source(%)fossil fuel: 100%
hydro: 0%
nuclear: 0%
other: 0% (2001)
Electricity - consumption(kWh)36.6 billion kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - exports(kWh)0 kWh (2008 est.)
Electricity - imports(kWh)0 kWh (2008 est.)
Oil - production(bbl/day)8,553 bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - consumption(bbl/day)896,000 bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - exports(bbl/day)1.289 million bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil - imports(bbl/day)2.109 million bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil - proved reserves(bbl)0 bbl (1 January 2009 est.)
Natural gas - production(cu m)0 cu m (2008 est.)
Natural gas - consumption(cu m)8.27 billion cu m (2008 est.)
Natural gas - exports(cu m)0 cu m (2008)
Natural gas - proved reserves(cu m)0 cu m (1 January 2009 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate(%)0.2% (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS4,200 (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deathsfewer than 200 (2007 est.)
Literacy(%)definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 92.5%
male: 96.6%
female: 88.6% (2000 census)

Education expenditures(% of GDP)3.7% of GDP (2001)

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