If you’re born poor, it’s not your mistake. But if you die poor, it’s your mistake.” – Bill Gates

Bill Gates apparently paraphrased an old saying but there’s some truth in it. So what got me thinking about intergenerational social mobility?

Well, in my previous post. Maybe I was a little harsh on Mr Cheong (or is it Lee?). Maybe he isn’t rationalising his decision at all, he probably could be really happy with his life now and is genuinely convinced that his not-so-new found homeland is Shangri-la and from the generous depths of his heart, believes that salvation for every Singaporean left behind is to migrate to Canada like him.

But quite obviously, not everyone living in Singapore thinks the way he does. In fact, I tried to point out, much to the oblivion of one person who left a comment, that comparing between the two is a futile exercise because it is so subjective.

Anyway, it got me thinking about my ideal society and country for future generations to live in. What would my ideal society be? Well, very simply, it would be one where intergenerational social mobility is high. That is, to me, the fairest possible society- one that believes that it’s not your fault if you were born poor but that if you die poor, then it’s your fault.

And this is where I did some research (read: googling).

According to the findings of this paper on Intergenerational social mobility by OECD:

– Parental or socio-economic background influences descendants’ educational, earnings and wage outcomes in practically all countries for which evidence is available.

– Inequalities in secondary education are likely to translate into inequalities in tertiary education and subsequent wage inequality.

– Redistributive and income support policies seem to be associated with greater intergenerational social mobility.

And the paper also contains a really interesting chart:

Hmmm…which European countries are in trouble now?

Ok, I know correlation isn’t causation but these countries must be doing something right if they have a higher level of intergenerational social mobility* and yet haven’t gotten themselves in the kind of fiscal nonsense certain countries like Spain and Italy have gotten themselves into. And look where Italy and Spain is on that chart.

So where does Singapore stack up? Well, I found this paper written by Yip Chun Seng from the Ministry of Finance (some googling reveals that he should be Dr Yip Chun Seng, principal economist (fiscal policy) at MOF) which suggests that intergenerational social mobility for Singaporeans born 1969 and 1978 is pretty high (more or less like the Swedes in the chart above).

However, the paper does have some other interesting findings:

– That sons of poor fathers are more likely to remain poor.

– Educational attainment of sons over fathers is high for that cohort.

– Study could be improved by using a better measure of permanent income.

Findings may not be applicable to future cohorts.

So, Singapore has done relatively well in the last three decades in terms of intergenerational social mobility but for us to ensure that it remains this way, we need to make sure that those from more unfortunate circumstances are not disadvantaged (particularly in the pursuit of higher education) in any way.

This would probably mean that as a country, we must make sure that any child does not have a disadvantage in terms of getting a good education because he/she had to take care of a family member who is weighed down by medical illness, does not have enough money for educational material or supplies or even for nutritional purposes. Even if their parents have made shitty choices, these kids should not be the ones having to bear the consequences of their fathers or mothers.

Does Singapore already fit the bill ? That is open to discussion.


Interestingly, The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has just ranked Singapore as 6th best place to be born in 2013 (link here).

Also, for people who like to compare living in one country to another, please read this post by Limpeh. You people need a paradigm shift.

*There are a number of ways to measure intergenerational social mobility but the one used here and most commonly used (I think) is a correlation between a father’s and son’s income.