Here’s why we’re not getting married

When it comes to children, family and marriage – I feel we are too quick to take the easiest route out and seek blame. We blame society for its high prices, we blame the state for lack of welfare, we seek new target boards and means to justify it. I’d like to present a new perspective here for your consideration.

 

It is not because “things” are expensive.

If this is so, explain why countries with increasing birthrates are dominated by 3rd world countries, war torn countries and countries experiencing severe poverty? And why countries with falling fertility include American, European, Australian and other countries with strong welfare?

“Things” are not expensive. Our lifestyles are. There’s an old Singaporean saying, “If you give a kid an ice-cream, he’ll never want vegetables again”.

Noodles used to cost $1.50 when I as a kid, today (i’m 32 now) it’s $2.50. Basic life needs aren’t all that unaffordable. Apart from housing (of which we will discuss later) basic products for a comfortable life, haven’t really increased much and even then, most salaries have grown to accommodate for these.

What salary does not grow to accommodate for include: cars, iPads, LCD TVs, fibre connection subscriptions, iMacs, Diablo III, Pradas, Starbucks – and the peer pressure that follows them. We’re very crafty at disguising our boasts and sneaking them into our conversations. Consider the following:

 

“Aiyo, my husband, he went to buy a $2k TV, sooo expensive…”

 

“This bag costs me $8k, soooo expensive, but I believe in good material….”

 

“…sorry, I can’t join you guys, have a big proposal worth $100k to work on, will stay up very late tonight and burn the weekend also…”

 

And on that note, have you ever wondered why someone must always tell you the name of a country they’re traveling to, when a simple “I’ll be overseas” will do.

 

So, here’s the reason why we’re not getting married earlier:

The average person dates for 3 – 7 years before settling down. And this may still lead to a breakup. He/she will probably repeat this cycle with 2 or 3 other partners. By the time one actually settles down, one would already be in their 30s.

Women seek confidence in their partner. Men seek career and wealth. We’re all trying to out-spend each other, out-work each other, out-perform our friends and even our own partners. How is this conducive to family life?

 

The flow-chart to a wedding process goes like this:

1.) Decision on partner

2.) Decision on wedding expenses

3.) Decision on accomodation

 

Wedding Expenses

As weddings get more and more creative, it gets more and more expensive. Once again, the desire to out-do the other couple fuels businesses to design products that cost more. Amongst women, there seems to be some perverse idea that the ring they get must cost 3 times a man’s monthly salary. How in the world do you expect a man to propose to you if there is such an expectation from him?

It is possible to spend only a few thousand dollars for a full wedding and dinner at a simple restaurant. But rather unlikely many of us will take this up. Majority of us fit ourselves to conform to spending on an event that will cost an entire year’s salary. Nothing wrong with that, but those of us who cannot afford it feel belittled and small. We should not foist our ideals of a marriage upon others.

I’ve seen more than a few creative weddings that didn’t cost more than a few thousand dollars: at a chalet, at a pub, at a nice restaurant, at a church. Heck, if you’re in a rush, just sign the contract at ROM (sex and the city style) and go – almost free of charge!

Were these expenses a result of inflation? Were they a result of any government policy? Would it be fair to expect society to pay for our lifestyles?

 

Cheaper flats will be very helpful, but not a solution

What do I mean? Let’s put it this way: if you’re hungry, chicken rice is not a solution. Eating chicken rice is how you solve your hunger.

Cheaper flats would only be helpful to individuals who have moved to the third stage of the wedding process (buying an apartment). But it is not in itself, a solution… because the dating couple has not decided to settle down and “eat” yet. So making it cheaper does not help those who have not yet decided on their choice of life partner. Amongst my brood of buddies, many of us already own our own property – but still remain single.

But if you’ve already decided to wed, there are many grants, programs and policies available to help new couples buy and as we speak, many more initiatives are being developed by MND to improve the price of apartments.

How do I know I am right? The litmus test is to look at some segments of our society, there are certain ethnic and religious segments marrying young, buying houses and have many, many children – whilst the rest of us sit here and complain that it’s too expensive to do so.

We can make our lives easier with one small first step – and that involves us not to indulge in boastful conversations (no matter how well camouflaged) and to stop glorifying sadistic practices such as staying in the office late (go home on time, it is normal).

I think the Government’s agenda is misunderstood. They have said that we should work hard, we should grow our GDP. But what it looks like now is that we have “走火入魔“ (zou huo ru muo, a Chinese term of overdoing something).

 

 

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About the author

Benjamin Chiang

Benjamin Chiang is an enthusiast of good advertising, deep thinking, labour issues and chocolate. He writes also at www.rangosteen.com and occasionally on Yahoo!

The views expressed are his own.

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3 Comments

  • I have to agree because I believe in a proper work/life balance. If we abide a balanced framework of living, materialism will naturally hold lower importance to our lives.

    Why do I stress on materialism being a factor? It is a well known notion that having kids are “expensive” Whether it is the truth or not, it is how society perceives it. If that is true, people will be flaunting their wealth by showing how many kids they have, not how many cars, how grand their wedding and which country they tour this time round.

    I’ll like to invite you to read this and how much you agree: http://asingaporeanson.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/selling-your-life.html

    • Yes – I agree with the post you made. And I especially love this one: “When is the last time you cook your own meals? Stop slaving your mum to cook for you or she is selling her life to you. Your maid probably could not care much how healthy you are. If you are rich enough to hire a maid who can cook delicious and healthy meals, I am sure you are in the category where you do not need to spend more than 8 hours in work.”

  • Hi Ben,

    Is the ring supposed to be a man’s 3 months’ salary now? It must be in the late 90s that I recall reading a woman’s magazine and the rule of thumb was that a ring should be one and a half month of the man’s salary;)

    On a more serious note, throwing a big Chinese wedding banquet or a big wedding is very much a cultural thing that is prevalent in the Asian culture. The Malays hold wedding parties where the whole extended family or people in the kampong (in the past) would be invited regardless of whether the bride and groom know their guests. So are the Indians with their hefty dowries and fanfare. Similarly, the Chinese wedding often has an extensive guest list of extended family members and elders that the bride and groom have no idea who exactly they are. But the “filial” Chinese couple must respect and obey the elders and follow the Chinese tradition that their joint union is not very much a celebration of just themselves but extends to become a massive family affair of two families coming together. Not to forget, the typical Chinese wedding fare will include delicacies like shark fin, abalone, fresh prawns and fish etc. and multiply by the number of guest at say, $150 per head, the cost of the wedding party will be significant. This is on top of wedding gowns (the Chinese is very fond of changing many outfits for some reason), a photographer and videographer which is the element where the bride and groom would most likely to have a greater autonomy in selection choice and an aspect of the wedding planning that is executed more for themselves (as opposed to being “for show” to family members and friends). The growing costs of wedding planning is all part of the inflation and having a (ostentatious) wedding party is an intrinsic part of the Asian tradition (for most people) to showcase and celebrate their union and the embarking of a new chapter in a couple’s life. So it is really up to couples to decide how they want to do it. With the rising costs of living, I agree with you that much money could be saved on the wedding planning if people start thinking creatively of ways to hold one on a shoestring budget. And not to mention, people should ditch the status anxiety mentality that so-and-so’s wedding party was bigger and better than mine, another prevalent phenomenon in a consumerist, kiasu and materialistic society like ours…

    In addition to tradition, I suspect that this “kiasu” and competitive culture within our society has its roots from the fact that we are a small and fairly new country that had gained independence and advancement on the world’s stage through our financial success. In a matter of 47 short years, we see a generation comprising of mainly lower to lower middle income families to a country with the highest number of millionaires per capita in the world. People cannot revert to the poor old days and the younger, “marriageable” (currently in 20s and 30s) middle-class generation who have not tasted poverty cannot relate to it either. They were brought up to be competitive and to aim high and to outdo their peers in all aspects of their lives through school to their working adult lives. Meritocracy is the key to achieving their goals and all that they want. So how can they reconcile not being able to afford their “dream” wedding party after aiming and striving “high” all their lives and for once where it matters, they may have to take a compromise? It seems too hard and I reckon many (including myself) have decided that marriage is not an option YET for me. And then time passes and some may well miss the boat…

    My thought on cheaper flats is that it could well be a productive solution. Instead of focusing on outlaying an expensive wedding party, how about advocating financial stability (since we are such a materialistic society and the money speak would relate well with the general population) through joint property ownership as the very first step and foundation to a viable marriage? By making properties more affordable (although it is another topic subject to debate since housing and rental prices are a result of demand and supply in a land scarce market) and delivering a clear social and cultural message that it is OK to skip or delay the wedding party and focus on creating a “home” through property ownership as the main priority of a joint union, this may well assist in boosting the marriage statistics. Changing a cultural mindset may take more than a generation but effective marketing campaign sliding in the above nuances ( ie. Step 1 : Find a partner; Step 2: ROM & find accommodation ; Step 3: Think about throwing a wedding party only if you want or feel like) could subtly shape the social landscape and mindset along the way.

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