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Who are our baby boomers?

Family gatherings during the festive season are not only the opportunity for us to fill our stomachs with delicious home-cooked dishes, but also double up as times for reminiscing, and sharing memories between generations. For those in their fifties and sixties, many hold fond memories of growing up years in the kampong during the 1960s, before relocation to newly-built HDB estates.

The 1 million (roughly) post-war baby boomers in our citizen population were born in what many think of as a simpler time, when Singapore was still in its nascent stage of development. Over just a few decades, our baby boomers witnessed Singapore’s growth from third world to first, and the genesis and reshaping of our urban landscape. Every generation has its own unique experience and makeup, and by tracing differences between the generations, we also see a story of how Singapore society and our population is evolving. Although both the baby boomers and Pioneer Generation lived through an uncertain period of Singapore’s past, baby boomers are in general better prepared for retirement than the Pioneer Generation. Chart 1 shows the age distribution of Pioneer Generation and Baby Boomers.

Baby boomers have smaller families

One distinct difference between baby boomers and the Pioneer Generation would be the number of children they have. Families were much larger for the Pioneer Generation – it was not uncommon to see families with six or more children, but by the baby boomer generation, two or three children were closer to the norm (at your next family gathering, see if this holds true for your family!).

With fewer children, baby boomers may also have less support in their older years, and there will be a ‘greater’ burden on the current working-age generation to care for both their elderly parents, and their own children. But baby boomers are different from Pioneers, and the type of care and support they need will be different.

Baby boomers are better educated

Baby boomers have an edge over their parents when it comes to education. As the first batch of Singaporeans to receive widespread formal education, a whopping 92 per cent of baby boomers had a chance to attend school compared to 30 per cent of Pioneer Generation members. Younger baby boomers are also more likely to have diploma or higher qualifications than their older counterparts (Chart 2).

The higher educational profile of baby boomers also means that they are likely to have different lifestyle preferences. For example, more of them are open to working after retirement age, though they may prefer the flexibility of having shorter working hours to pursue their own hobbies and interests.

The once-traditional role of grandparents being full-time caregivers to their grandchildren is also less common among baby boomers. A 2013/2014 survey1 found that less than half of the respondents aged 50-59 years intend to take care of their grandchildren.

Baby boomers have better financial security

Thanks to a better education profile, baby boomers were well-positioned to take advantage of Singapore’s rapid economic growth in the late 1970s to early 1980s. As a result, they were able to occupy good job positions in skill-intensive manufacturing industries, such as consumer electronics and component engineering.

The higher wages has allowed baby boomers to accumulate more assets and retirement savings. These personal reserves are further bolstered by Singapore’s social security policies, such as the Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings and ownership of HDB flats, which are geared towards helping Singaporeans build up their nest egg.

Even though baby boomers have demonstrated that they could be capable of self-sufficiency as a generation, there remain some segments among them who may require more support from their families, the community and the Government.

One example is the group of female baby boomers. Although some of them might have received formal education, many are homemakers who left the workforce to care for their children. They may have accumulated fewer savings than their male counterparts. According to a 2011 report published by the International Longevity Centre, financial support from children and grandchildren is the first source of income for 43 per cent of men and 75 per cent of women. This lends credence to the idea that female baby boomers need more help from their family during their old age.

The differences between baby boomers and the Pioneer Generation mean that the opportunities and challenges of ageing today will be very different from the future.

Indeed, our ageing demographics play a big role in shaping how our families, society and policies will evolve in the future. As we have seen, the differences between baby boomers and the Pioneer Generation mean that the opportunities and challenges of ageing today will be very different from the future.

As the government plans ahead and our society adapts and prepares for the upcoming changes, we should also be positive of the greater opportunities that our baby boomers can enjoy and bring to us. While some may talk of the ‘silver tsunami’ and catastrophise our ageing population, with baby boomers, it’s quite likely that some assumptions may be turned upside down, and we can be more confident that most of them will be able to lead active and fulfilling lives in their silver years.

Read more about why we are optimistic about our ageing population here.

1 IPS’ Perception and Attitudes towards Ageing and Seniors Survey

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