Most Singaporeans would consider there to be two kinds of Singaporeans.
The high-SES kind…
And the low-SES kind.
But the issue still stands: the distinction between someone who’s truly high-SES and someone who’s really low-SES may be different from what we think, based on various factors.
I mean, if you’re insisting that you’re part of the high-SES club while waving your chopsticks wildly and with your mouth full of cai png, are you really high-SES in the eyes of the society?
Well, since society’s the one that decides these things as it’s all about perception, a group of Singaporeans have interestingly laid out what they think constitutes as high-SES or low-SES.
In case you wanna find out how to act like what you’re not.
C for Cars, Condos and Cai Png
In an online poll done by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) and Vox Dei, some 538 Singaporeans had shared their thoughts about how they saw a person as high class or low class.
The results were as interesting as the poll title of Cars, Condos and Cai Png: Singaporeans’ Perceptions of Class, Wealth and Status. The respondents were asked to describe a person of high class and one with low class, as well as where they thought they fell along that spectrum.
The study came about after a random Social Studies guidebook said that people of low-SES usually “speak Singlish, play football or basketball, and eat at hawker centres”, while those of high-SES “speak formal English, play golf or tennis, and only eat at fine restaurants”.
You’re High Class If You’re Richer
66% of respondents indicated that income is the most important factor in determining whether one is of high class or not, followed by factors such as housing, education, family, car, holidays, language, networks and domestic helpers, in that order.
For example, if your family is powerful or includes a family member that is powerful, it may affect your income and status as well.
9% of them also indicated that language usage was a factor in deciding which class someone belongs in, stating that those who speak mainly in English belong to the higher class, especially if they have a foreign accent.
However, instead of just the language being used, it was noted that respondents mostly felt that the fluency of a language was a more important indicator, no matter which language. Two of the respondents also said that the ability to code-switch between English and Singlish was something that indicated high status. See, who said Singlish is only for low-SES people?
Your Behaviour Matters As Well
Class can be seen in two terms: material and behavioural.
61% of respondents saw it only in material terms while 3% saw it only in behavioural terms, whereas the remaining 36% saw it in both ways.
Some believe that there is a link between personal qualities and material prosperity, with one 59-year-old male respondent describing someone of high class as a “well-to-do business owner, lives in a landed property, appreciates fine arts, is socially respected and responsible for others’ livelihoods, as well as contributes to societal development.”
However, some also see the high-SES people negatively, with a 24-year-old male respondent commenting that they are “out of touch and locked within one’s ivory tower”. Oof.
High-SES Has More Positive Traits
Still, most of them associated positive traits with people of higher class and more negative traits are associated with people of a lower class.
21% of respondents described high-SES people with positive traits, and only 4% pointed out negative traits. On the other hand, only 8% of respondents used positive traits to describe low-SES people and 28% used negative traits.
This “implies a relatively low degree of resentment toward the wealthy, and thus, that the majority of people are broadly content with the ways in which resources are distributed within society,” according to the researchers. No one took an explicitly ideological view and few expressed overtly political views in the open-ended survey.
Brand Usage Changes Perceptions
Familiar brands that we use every day, such as Grab or Uniqlo, actually play a part in your class status. Surprisingly, more atas and expensive luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci amongst the aforementioned brands are actually an indicator of both high and low class.
Researchers believe that because there are so many fake luxury products in the market nowadays that anyone can purchase to make themselves seem high-SES, it, in turn, lowers the value of these luxury products. It makes sense – the imitation products are so real these days you can’t even tell which one’s the fake.
What one 30-year-old female respondent said about low-SES people certainly gave a lot of perspective to this: “They are people who have grown up in small HDB (Housing and Development Board) flats, speak more Chinese or mother tongue language, own tasteless luxury or wannabe brands but fail to look good and put together”.
Now that you know what behaviours and material wealth high-SES people have, maybe you’re gonna try to imitate it.
But you know what? Whether you’re high-SES or low-SES, as long as you’re happy, can already.
Cai png is the lunch of champions, after all.
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