10 Facts About SES (Socioeconomic Status), The New Buzzword in S’pore

In case you haven’t heard of ‘SES’ before, let me break it down for you:


Yes, “ses” is literally all about social and economics.

Image: Imgflip

To put it more blatantly, SES measures ‘class’ and ‘money’.

But now that it has become the latest buzzword in Singapore, what does it really mean, except that it has now become an adjective?

Measurement of SES

These two broad terms are calculated by three main components:

Income, education and occupation.

I’m sure all of us have heard of the whole ‘study hard if you don’t want to end up on the streets’ theory, so I shall just skip that part.

In short, one’s level of income, education and type of occupation will determine which group of SES (i.e. high, middle, low) they belong in.

Other than measuring an individual, SES can also be used to differentiate families and societies.

Simple, right? And most of us know that.

Why low SES may be a societal issue

Having low SES would mean that one has a relatively low educational achievement.

That would translate to the inability to find a stable and decent-paying job, thus affecting the standard of living.

On a bigger level, the collective group of people with low SES may fall into the poverty cycle, in which the Government would have to step in and help.


An extreme example would be those in war-torn countries who are still struggling to stay alive.

Whereas a kid who grew up in a high SES family would be crying over … not getting the newest iPhone.

Image: Giphy

Of course, there are exceptions

However, the three components do not necessarily link to each other.

A high level of educational achievement does not guarantee a high-paying job.

Or rather, you don’t need a good degree to be ‘successful’.

For all of you who are thinking of furthering your studies, hope this is a timely advice.

People like to quote people like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg as successful school dropouts to prove this point.

Image: Rediff.com

They worked hard and got into top universities, but decided to go after things that attracted them instead.


Many university graduates would say that they regret not studying something they liked.

These two billionaires took the advice seriously and I’m sure they do not regret it.

Lesson learnt: you don’t need perfect grades to lead a high SES lifestyle. At least not in the “education” bracket.

Image: Giphy

What students are taught in Singapore

Back in my days, I’m sure the term ‘SES’ was not taught in a way to discriminate anyone.

(I mean, MOE will not approve it anyways)


In fact, it was tied to Economics, to identify pressing issues of the world today.

For example, those who have low SES may have difficulty submitting data to the Government due to their illiteracy.

This will then cause some inaccuracies in the authorities’ plans to help those in need, which is detrimental to a country’s growth.

But high SES is not all perfect either 

On the other hand, having a high SES doesn’t mean life is all good.

Although not supported by official evidence, my past experience has told me the most arrogant people are coincidentally high SES (or pretending to be one).


I’m sure not all those who are in the upper SES class are like this, but the examples are endless.

Just this week, there was a high SES lady who cut the queue and took a family parking lot.

When confronted, she said she “had a lot of money to burn”, and boasted that she owns an impressive fleet of three cars.

Image: MRWGifs

And of course, how can we ignore the fact that even Kdramas are portraying the ugly behind-the-scenes of family business and corruption of their country!

In other words, while having high SES may provide one with all the comforts of the world, it certainly does not guarantee a respectable character.

The scary thing is that movies, TV dramas and even YouTubers are portraying high SES lives to create that correlation, which obviously aren’t healthy.

Singapore’s move 

In his round-up Budget Speech, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said that the Government has always been “investing significantly” in early childhood so as to provide more education opportunities for preschoolers.

A Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) study showed that about 50% of 15-year-old Singapore students with lower SES managed to earn a spot in the top 25% across all countries.

Image: Pinterest

Mr Heng also added that the Government would like to encourage social mixing, which explains the heavy investment in common spaces (HDB neighbourhoods, hawker centres, parks etc).

“Apart from creating common spaces, perhaps the best way to bridge social divides is to nurture our common values, by building a caring society,” said the Minister.

In other words, Ah Bengs and CEOs having kopi-o kosong together in a hawker centrem talking about a common topic: the impending GST hike #justsaying

Lest you want to know more about the GST hike, here goes:

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The recent saga

Just this week, a picture of a Social Studies guidebook went viral.

Image: CNA

Titled “Complete Guide to GCE O-Level Social Studies Volume 1”, the guidebook defined SES as a factor “that shapes a person’s identity”.

There was a section that listed out some of the behaviours of those with lower SES, as pictured above.

The list includes: using Singlish or different dialects in daily conversation, playing sports like soccer or basketball at local HDB estates, eating at hawker centres or at home and youths who take on part-time jobs during vacation to meet basic family needs.

It’s not a surprise that people went apeshit over this.

If you found the content outrageous, read on to see what the publisher has to say.

A different POV

According to Channel NewsAsia, MarketAsia Books has “defended” the contents of the guidebook saying that it has to “be read in (the) context of the whole chapter, which discusses crucial themes pertaining to Singapore’s social mobility and inequality issues“.

Oh, please enlighten me then. How is speaking Singlish part of “social mobility” and/or “inequality” issues?

If anything, I’m sure Singaporeans are proud of this special identity!

My colleague, who majored in English, has this to say: “Singlish is merely another dialect to communicate. But according to -”

Okay, gonna stop him there because unfortunately, in sociolinguistics, SES is involved but we won’t want to provoke anything.

The publisher added that they “hope to bring about greater critical thinking and knowledge of responsible online reading”.

Well, they certainly got some complaining going on the web.

MOE’s response

MOE has been quick to get back to a concerned parent:

Image: CNA

Well…then why is the school making their students buy a non-approved textbook in the first place?


Meanwhile, Singaporeans being Singaporeans…

I’ll have to acknowledge a good joke when I see one.

In regards to the whole issue, some enterprises have snatched the perfect opportunity to attract attention.

Image: TNP
Image: TNP
Image: Yole Facebook Page

As you can see, both ‘High SES’ and ‘Low SES’ are meant to be the same.

What these companies are trying to say is that their products and services are meant for everyone to enjoy, with no discrimination towards anybody.

Lesson learnt: be it low SES or high SES, we should be teaching our kids the right values, and not to discriminate people based on their behaviour.

This Singapore love story set in the 90s shows you why you should never wait for tomorrow. Watch it without crying:

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