Do you do these things? If you do, at least one person thinks you belong to the lower socioeconomic class

So, this photo triggered a lot of reactions among Singaporeans because it’s from a page from a Social Studies study guide. I think the initial reaction was so strong mainly (at least if the original poster’s post is anything to go be) because many people assumed that this was something that was being taught in schools (it’s not. MOE has come out to say that this isn’t even an approved guidebook. i.e. it’s not sanctioned.)

The other reason for the big reaction is that it probably it touched a raw nerve with a lot of people. After all, how many people in Singapore identify with some or all of the things listed in the table under “lower SES”?

Frankly, it’s stupid that people are getting triggered about this. It’s great to see the various memes that have been popping up after this high SES/low SES thing got some people triggered. It shows that as a society, we know how stupid it is to make sweeping generalisations about whole groups of people.

Take the point about “eating at hawker centres or at home”. This absurd because most high SES (frankly, I think it’s a stupid term but given this context…) people I know regularly eat at home. After all, if you belong in the upper strata of society, it’s relatively cheap to hire domestic help in Singapore as compared to places like London or New York. If you have a live-in domestic helper, I’m pretty sure you would eat more often at home because that makes eating in simpler. You don’t have to think about what to eat or the pain of having to clean up after eating.

And as for hawkers centres, many people (if you’re Singapore born and bred) know that’s where the best foods are. So, eating at hawker centres isn’t so much about getting affordable food. It’s about getting good food. Don’t believe me? Check out this photo.



That’s our Prime Minister at a hawker centre. Source


That’s the Prime Minister of Singapore at a hawker centre. He’s by no means poor or lower SES. So why was he there? He was there because that stall is well-known for their awesome fried chicken wings. For many Singaporeans, hawker centres aren’t a place that they turn to just because the food is cheap. It’s a place they turn to because the food is also good.

Ok, so we can say for sure that the book in question is garbage. Does that mean that there aren’t social class differences in Singapore? Obviously not. Just like any society, we have people from all strata of society. When I was younger, I attended a school that is pretty infamous for being the school where rich kids go to. There is some truth to that generalisation as some of my classmates are the sons of billionaires or multi-millionaires. However, there were plenty of my classmates that came from working-class families. Personally, I grew up in an upper-middle-class family so I didn’t grow up knowing HDB void decks but that certainly didn’t stop me from going to hawker centres. Lunch almost every weekend was from the fishball noodle stall at the hawker centre near my childhood home.

For Singaporean guys, once you enlist in National Service (NS), you meet people from all sorts of background and funny enough, once you have a shared experience like that, you realise that regardless of their background, people are more similar than different. Right now, like 85% of other Singaporeans, I stay in public housing* and I’m in one of the more affordable neighbourhoods but I would say that the quality of living is pretty good. Some of my colleagues

Therefore, the more important questions people should be thinking about should be along these lines:

  1. Who are the disadvantaged in society?
  2. Is their disadvantage permanent?
  3. What proportion of our society do they make up?
  4. What kind of help are they getting?
  5. How much help are they getting?
  6. Is the help working?

And if you’re interested in that sort of thing, I have just the thing for you.


*Singapore’s version of public housing is quite different from what public housing is in many other countries. Funny enough, because so many people in Singapore stay in public housing, there seems to be a social division between people who stay in certain areas as well as older apartments. Basically, the price of public housing in Singapore is also market-based to a large degree, so prices differ across neighbourhoods and flat types. Naturally, this means that certain neighbourhoods are more affordable and more affordable means that you tend to attract more families with lower incomes.