The last of CREA’s roundtables for 2017 opened to a packed room at the SMU School of Law. No surprise, the topic of labour and employment attracted much interest. Guests came from almost every single government ministry - Finance, Health, Home Affairs, Manpower, National Development, Social & Family Development, Trade & Industry and Prime Minister’s Office.
Senior Research Associate Stephen Hoskins began by showing that labour force participation data in the SLP (Singapore Life Panel®) aligns well with figures published by MOM. Mature workers are quite entrepreneurial, with one in three having moved jobs within the last five years, and many engaged in self-employment. Mr Hoskins also showed that labour force participation is also higher for respondents in better health. He also showed that job satisfaction is highest among government and healthcare workers, even after accounting for the impact of income.
Flying in from the United States to join us at the roundtable were Professor Michael D. Hurd and Professor Susann Rohwedder, both of the RAND Center for the Study of Aging, one of CREA’s collaborators.
Professor Hurd began by exploring the dynamics of the unemployment rate. Mature women are more likely to be unemployed if they have less education, where unemployment is highest for men who have a post-secondary education. Among both men and women, the unemployment rate is lower for those in wealthier households. Unemployment is 10% higher among men in poor health, relative to those with good, very good or excellent health.
While most measures calculate unemployment at any single point in time, the SLP enables us to observe how many respondents have ever experienced unemployment since 2015. Professor Hurd showed that while 7% of respondents are unemployed at any one point in time, 11% have experienced a spell of unemployment over the past two years. Two-fifths of these spells last for only one month, but 15% persist for more than six months. By the second month of unemployment, singles have reduced their household spending by 25%, most notably on health and leisure. For couples this figure is 10%, as they act as insurance against each other’s unemployment. Income, spending and well-being all decline over time as an unemployment spell persists.
Starting with the observation that life expectancy has increased rapidly in Singapore, Professor Rohwedder discussed the need for all Singaporeans to finance these longer life spans. To do so, individuals will need either to save more aggressively or work later in life. Public statistics have borne this out, with labour force participation increasing rapidly over the last 10 years among those aged 50+, especially for women. But will this trend continue?
Using respondents’ expectations of working full-time at ages 62, 65 and 70, Professor Rohwedder showed that today’s 55 to 59-year-olds are likely to work later in life than older cohorts. For example, while 18% of 62-year-old women are currently in full-time work, this is likely to increase to 30% over the next five years. Large increases in labour force participation are likely for mature women, those with low education, those in poor health, and those with lower wealth. Newspapers were very interested in this result, with articles by Bloomberg, Straits Times, Channel NewsAsia, Lianhe Zaobao, and more.
SMU’s Assistant Professor of Economics, Seonghoon Kim, presented on job dissatisfaction and the gig economy. He highlighted that many governments are realising that happy workers are productive workers. SLP data shows that over 40% of respondents are dissatisfied with their current job, with higher rates among younger and more educated workers. Salary was the most common cause of dissatisfaction, cited by almost half of dissatisfied workers. One quarter attributed their dissatisfaction to long hours, and one-fifth to poor relations with colleagues or supervisors.
One-third of SLP respondents have left a job because of dissatisfaction. Again, this was more common among younger and more educated workers. While relations with colleagues was the third most-common cause of current dissatisfaction, it was the second most-common cause of respondents having left a job in the past. This suggests that poor relations with colleagues can be the ‘tipping-point’ that causes a person to change jobs.
Finally, Assistant Professor Kim presented SLP data on the gig economy, defined as “completing odd jobs on an online platform such as Grab, Uber, FoodPanda, Deliveroo or similar.” He found that 1% of women and 3% of men aged 50-70 are currently working in the gig economy. Forty percent of these gig freelancers work more than 35 hours per week. The average mature gig freelancer earns S$612 per week, making up 15.5% of their total labour income. Older gig freelancers tend to work longer hours and earn less per hour.
Gig freelancers are more likely to come from low-income households and more likely to have been unemployed over the last two years. They are more likely to state that they have a higher chance of running out of money after retirement and also report a higher probability of working full-time after 70. Together, these factors suggest that many gig freelancers do so for a financial buffer during their transition into retirement.
When the Roundtable ended, participants stayed around to discuss further with the presenters. All in all, it was an insightful and informative Friday afternoon.
Please find the programme here.
The event was covered by several news media outlets, see the following:
Shin Min Daily News: MORE MALES WISH TO CONTINUE WORKING AFTER RETIREMENT
Channel NewsAsia: SINGAPOREANS EXPECT THEY WILL WORK LONGER: STUDY
Straits Times: SINGAPOREANS EXPECT TO WORK TILL AT LEAST AGE 65
Lianhe Zaobao: SENIOR WORKERS TO BECOME A LARGE PART OF OUR LOCAL WORKFORCE
Eleven Myanmar Online: SINGAPOREANS EXPECT TO WORK TILL AT LEAST AGE 65
Research @ SMU: THE FACE OF FUTURE EMPLOYMENT