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Sunday, 25 Apr, 2021

Filial piety norms: Caught between two worlds (Straits Times Premium)

I will support and care for my parents. But I don't expect my future children to do so to the same extent for me. Expectations of filial piety norms are shifting across generations, and that's a good thing.

Income transfer from children was diminishing as the most important source of financial support for the elderly
Income transfer from children was diminishing as the most important source of financial support for the elderly. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Giving your parents a monthly allowance, living with them at least till you get married, and taking care of them if they are ill instead of relying on institutional help are actions that are commonly viewed as displays of filial piety in Singapore.

"How one generation loves, the next generation learns," went the tagline of a commercial supported by the then Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports a decade ago, which aimed to promote the concept of filial piety.

But what if each generation has a different way of showing what this love could look like?

As I edge closer to my 30s and the prospect of starting my own family in the next few years, what I expect from my own children will shift in tandem with the evolution of our population and policy landscape.

Like eight in 10 of Singaporeans here, I give a sum of money to my parents on a regular basis to help them to defray their expenses.

I feel that this is the right thing to do, because I do not pay rent when I live with them, and also because my parents, who are Merdeka Generation seniors, have lived frugally their whole lives to ensure that my needs, and those of my older brother, are taken care of.

While they have set aside some funds for retirement, some additional cash will help them to enjoy little luxuries in life that they may be reluctant to shell out for - taking a taxi instead of public transport, or going on holidays abroad.

But my own expectations for my future children, if I have any, are different. I am better educated and have access to a lot more skills and career opportunities than my parents had, and I plan to be less reliant on my own children for financial support when I grow old.

Lifespans are also getting longer, and it would not be realistic to expect my children to support my retirement needs, while at the same time planning for their own. In 1990, for instance, the life expectancy at birth for women was 77 - that figure has since gone up to 85 in 2019.

Future generations may also have to contend with more uncertainties and challenges in the job market as the pace of disruption accelerates. As acclaimed economist Minouche Shafik told my colleague in an interview recently, workers of the future may carry more risk as work becomes more flexible.

There are also threats on the external front, such as climate change, which will hit younger generations harder, she added.

The last thing I want to do is to add to their struggles by depending on them to support my old age.

It is likely that more Singaporeans will feel this way. According to the National Survey of Senior Citizens, income transfer from children was diminishing as the most important source of financial support for the elderly.

In 2005, 79 per cent of those aged 65 to 74 said it was the most important source, compared to 45 per cent in 2011 - the latest year for which survey results are available.

Meanwhile, 74 per cent of HDB residents aged 55 and above received regular financial support from their children in 2018, down from 79 per cent in 2008, according to the HDB Sample Household Survey 2018.

The same survey showed a slight generational shift in views on whether it is the duty of children to take care of their parents, even if this is at the expense of their own well-being. Six per cent of HDB residents aged 55 and above with married children disagreed with this statement, compared to 9 per cent of married residents aged 54 and below.

Experts have said that such shifts in attitudes could be due to factors such as smaller family sizes, more support from the Government when it comes to retirement financing, and a growing belief in self-reliance among the younger generations.

Personally, I hope to work for as long as I can to avoid having to depend on others. Work helps give a sense of purpose and meaning, builds up retirement savings, and contributes to society.

Care for elders

Another norm that may change is living options for the elderly.

Some may think it unfilial to place their parents into residential care settings such as nursing homes, and not look after their needs at home.

But perhaps this view is coloured by the way many of today's institutionalised nursing homes are set up - rows of beds, dormitory-style, with regimented timing for meals, baths and activities, and the occasional complaints of neglect or even abuse.

In recent years, groups such as the Lien Foundation and the Assisted Living Facilities Association have been advocating for better models of care for seniors. This is timely, as nearly one in three people in Singapore is forecast to need eldercare services by 2030.

More housing models for seniors have been rolled out. The integrated Housing Board development, Kampung Admiralty, offers home medical and nursing care within residential blocks.

Harmony Village @ Bukit Batok, which is the first assisted living project in public housing, will offer care, support and communal activities for the seniors, with its completion expected in 2024.

While many people relish family life and would prefer to age with loved ones at home, it may be unrealistic to expect family members to provide full-time care at home for their elderly who are frail and sick, as they have their own children, work and lives to juggle. Caregiving is a demanding task that can lead to burnout - an issue that has received some attention in recent years.

Living in an assisted living facility, surrounded by peers, professional help and a sense of community, could be a viable alternative or complement to relying on family members for care needs.

The HDB survey also found that more than four in 10 elderly HDB residents are willing to stay in assisted-living facilities if there is a need, so they can have access to professional medical and nursing care.

Associate Professor Angelique Chan, executive director of the Duke-NUS Medical School's Centre for Ageing Research and Education, noted in a commentary on aged care in Asian societies on The Conversation website in October last year that filial piety had historically played an important role when families were large, pension schemes were unavailable and life expectancy was around 50 years.

But with changing demographics, it has become increasingly untenable for family to become the primary support system for the elderly. Instead, the provision of integrated care in partnership with individuals, their carers and family, is the way forward, she said.

As a millennial with elderly parents who is now thinking about having a family, I find myself caught between two worlds. As a child, I hope to do my best to honour what my parents would expect of me when it comes to caring for them as they age.

But I do not expect my future children to do likewise.

In my view, adapting to such changing expectations does not mean that one generation is less filial. Rather, having each generation plan for itself better to avoid over-burdening the future generation, will make it more sustainable for families to attain a better quality of life, and still maintain strong bonds across generations.

Original article on Straits Times (Premium): Filial piety norms: Caught between two worlds