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Reducing Singapore's income inequality

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Singapore has grown rapidly from a small fishing port to one of the busiest and most successful cities in the world. Despite its lack of natural resources, Singapore managed to hold its own amongst countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and Germany, in sectors such as education (OECD, 2016), global competitiveness (World Economic Forum, 2017) and quality of living (Mercer, 2018). But even as Singapore continues to perform well on the global stage, a widening of the socioeconomic status among its citizens has emerged, prompting much discussion and debate of the issue.

Social divide or stratification exists in developing and developed economies and “appears to be unavoidable…. [as] it contributes to social stability.” (Hunt and Colander, 2017). The 2017 study by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) entitled “A Study on Social Capital In Singapore”, found that “the sharpest social divisions in Singapore may now be based on class” (Yong, 2017). Schools and neighbourhoods were among the sources of social capital that were used as markers in the study (Chua, Tan, and Koh, 2017). One of the study’s main findings found that most Singaporeans would rather stick to those from their own social class than to mix with others from another class “because they feel they cannot connect with others due to cultural differences.” (Yong, 2017).

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While Singapore’s education system has been regarded as one of the best in the world, the emphasis (and obsession) on grades meant that students from the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum tend to lag behind those from the higher end as the latter will have better resources for developmental growth such as attending tuition or extra-curricular classes like music classes that will give them an academic edge when it comes to enrolling in top schools. This in turn gives them the educational credentials that are attractive to companies, thus allowing them to command high salaries as companies today are still focused on hiring based academic merits.

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