Family life in Singapore has evolved significantly over the last three decades. Today, the scenario of “breadwinner dad” and “stay-at-home mum” is no longer typical. While fathers remain generally less involved than mothers in caregiving for children, fatherhood in Singapore looks set to evolve further in the future. This brief reviews available statistics on families in Singapore, and the few studies conducted on fatherhood in Singapore, to offer a snapshot.
More “dual career” families
Several trends shape the context of fatherhood in Singapore. Probably the most important is the rising number of women joining the workforce. Over the last few decades, increasing numbers of women have joined the labour force, leading to changes in both expectations and roles of fatherhood beyond the traditional “breadwinner”. In 1991, 55.7% of women in the prime working ages of 25 to 54 were employed. By 2010, a record 71.7% of women in the same age group were in the labour force. Such “dual career” families have required fathers to play a more active role in their children’s lives than before.
Fathers less involved than mothers with children, even though fathers’ roles deemed important
Yet, fathers’ involvement in family life continues to lag behind that of mothers. A 2006 study conducted in Singapore found that mothers were still much more likely than fathers to be their child’s caregiver. Traditional male roles also persist in the type of relationship most children have with their fathers. A 2001 study of post-secondary students in Singapore found that they perceived fathers as significantly less warm than mothers, in that fathers were less affectionate and provided less support and guidance to adolescent children in their everyday lives.
The first Fatherhood Public Perception Survey in Singapore in 2009 found that fathers spend less time with their children than mothers. On an average day during the weekend, fathers typically spend 8.4 hours with their children with others present, compared to 10.5 hours for mothers, and 2.8 hours with their children alone, compared to 4.6 hours for mothers.
The survey also found that fathers were generally less engaged than mothers in the following activities:
- Everyday caregiving, such as bringing the child to the doctor alone, and showing love and affection to the child;
- Literacy-related activities, such as reading to or with the child;
- School-related activities, such as helping the child with homework and attending parent-teacher meetings.
Notably, while a wide majority (97%) of the 2,220 Singaporeans and Permanent Residents that the survey polled agreed fathers play an important parenting role, only 84% agreed that Singaporean fathers are involved in their children’s lives, and even fewer (77%) agreed that fathers are as good as mothers in caring for children.
Of various fathering activities, children most appreciate fathers’ emotional care and time spent with them
A 2010 qualitative study of 123 children aged 9 to 12 years old from four Primary Schools as well as 17 children from two Voluntary Children’s Homes in Singapore found that in describing the ideal father, the largest proportion of children’s responses emphasised that all fathers should love and care for their children (44%), followed by all fathers should spend time with their children (19.6%).
In describing their own father, the largest proportion of children’s responses (27.4%) focused on their fathers’ emotional qualities, as being kind, caring, helpful and/or loving. The next most common response was fathers described in all-encompassing terms of endearment, such as “wonderful”, “the best”, or “my hero” (15.1%).
Fathers face several parenting challenges
While many fathers may seek to be more involved with their children’s lives, they face various challenges. The 2009 Fatherhood Public Perception Survey found but that 95% of fathers polled agreed being a father and raising children was one of the most fulfilling experiences a man could have. But they cited work responsibilities, financial pressures and a lack of parenting resources as the top challenges they faced as parents. Notably, 39% of fathers surveyed also said that society’s views on how men should behave also posed challenges.
More non-resident fathers
The challenges of parenthood are likely to be compounded in the case of non-resident fathers (fathers who do not live with their children), who are becoming more commonplace in Singapore, due to the rising number of marital dissolutions (divorces and annulments).
There were 7,405 marital dissolutions in Singapore in 2010, an increase from 6,904 in 2005, and 5,160 cases in 2000.
Because single-parent families are often female-headed, a growing number of children grow up with non-resident fathers. The 2009 Fatherhood Public Perception Survey cited earlier found that among divorced, separated, or widowed parents with children aged 15 years or younger, 65% of the time, children lived with their mothers, while only 20% of the time, children lived with the fathers.
While many children who grow up with non-resident fathers achieve successful outcomes, such families often experience challenges to involved fatherhood and strong father-child bonds. Overseas research shows that non-residency is a strong predictor of lower father involvement in their children’s lives, and correspondingly, that father absence correlates with some adverse child outcomes.
The evolving context of fatherhood in Singapore presents both challenges and opportunities for families and practitioners who work with them. In particular, it calls for more attention to fatherhood and to the diverse range of fathering practices, and for further local research to understand and support father involvement as the times change.
1. Ministry of Manpower, Report on Labour Force in Singapore (2009), Women in Prime Working Ages, retrieved 2011-09-09.
2. Enterprise One. Resident Employment Rate Hits 66.2% In 2010., retrieved 2011-09-09
3. Shum-Cheung, Hawkins & Lim (2006). The Parenting Project: Disciplinary Practices, Child Care Arrangement and Parenting Practices in Singapore. Singapore: Singapore Children’s Society.
4. Ong, A.C. & Tan, E. (2001). Father’s role in the school success of adolescent: A Singapore study. In McInerney, D.M.& Van Etten, S. (Ed.). Research on Sociocultural Influences on Motivation and Learning. Vol. 1. pp. 183-203. Connecticut: Information Age Publishing.
5. Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, Fatherhood Public Perception Survey (2009), retrieved 2011-09-09
6. Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, Me and My Dad: Fatherhood through the Eyes of Children, 2010.
7. Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, Fatherhood Public Perception Survey (2009), retrieved 2011-09-09
8. Department of Statistics, Population Trends 2010, retrieved 2011-09-09
9. Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, Fatherhood Public Perception Survey (2009), retrieved 2011-09-09
10. Sandberg, J.F. & Hofferth, S. L. (2001). Changes in children’s time with parents: United States, 1981–1997. Demography, 38, 423–36
11. McLanahan & Sandefeur, 1994, cited in Ball, J., Moselle, K., & Pedersen, S. (2007). Father’s Involvement as a Determinant of Child Health. Commissioned review of research for the Public Health Agency of Canada.
About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.
First published on 26-09-2011.