Singapore, 17 October 2019 – A study by the National University of Singapore (NUS) has shown the significant influence the type of housing Singaporean parents own has on their children’s future economic status.
According to the study, children from low-income families showed upward mobility in intergenerational housing wealth, in large part due to the proximity of public housing to Singapore’s generally strong public education system.
However, children from middle-income families appeared to be worse off than their parents, primarily because government subsidies motivate them to buy into more affordable public housing.
The study also found that children from upper-income families retained the same position in terms of housing wealth as their parents, but only rarely overtook them.
The study was co-authored by Low Tuck Kwong Distinguished Professor Sumit Agarwal and Associate Professor Qian Wenlan from the Department of Finance at NUS Business School, together with Associate Professor Sing Tien Foo, Dean’s Chair and Director of Institute of Real Estate and Urban Studies (IRES) and Assistant Professor Yi Fan from NUS School of Design and Environment.
The research team combined data from housing transaction and administrative records between 1995 and 2018, and focused specifically on children born between 1965 and 1984.
To examine the impact of public policy on intergenerational wealth mobility, the data was then mapped against large-scale programmes, such as the Build-to-Order (BTO) and Married Child Priority Schemes in public housing.
The study found that children from low-income families, defined as having parents in the bottom 60th percentile nationally, show upward mobility in housing wealth. In contrast, children from middle-income families with parents in the 60th to 80th percentile ranks are worse off than their parents in housing type in large part due to them capitalising on government housing subsidies. Meanwhile, children born to the wealthiest top 20th percentile of families keep closest to their parents’ wealth levels, but are nevertheless worse off in absolute rank partly because there is less room for them to surpass their parents.
Intergenerational housing wealth mobility also differs across different regions of Singapore due to local policies and neighbourhood characteristics. Upward movements are concentrated in new towns such as Punggol, Pasir Ris and Jurong West where government policies have promoted quality public housing with subsidies. In addition, the Married Children Priority Scheme, which provides additional subsidies to encourage children to live near their parents, has enabled them to climb up the housing wealth ladder.
Higher mobility is also evident for children growing up in public housing, as well as when there are fewer restrictions for the BTO scheme. This is because public housing, especially for first-time buyers, is heavily subsidised by the government and provides a head start for new homeowners.
The researchers believe that the high-quality of public schools in Singapore is one of the factors that influences Singapore having one of the highest level of mobility among lower-tiered households compared to other countries. Therefore, Singaporean children from low-income families benefit as long as there are public schools in their neighbourhood, whilst children from middle-income families living in new towns may not be able to find a place in high-quality public education institutions, preventing them from keeping pace with their parents’ wealth.
Children from the upper-income families generally remain in the same core central areas as their parents and thus their mobility is largely flat.
Prof Agarwal said, “Housing wealth is the largest component of Singaporean’s overall wealth, so understanding intergenerational wealth mobility is key to predicting how younger Singaporeans will fare in the future.”
“Intergenerational wealth mobility is enabled by favourable public policies. In the longer term, it is likely to stabilise as citizens marry across socioeconomic classes,” he added.
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