Feb 24, 2011

Maids and The Singapore Family

A letter in the Straits Times Forum:
Most families can do without maids
THE issue of maid shortage is an ongoing problem, not only in Singapore but also in neighbouring countries.

In the past, having a live-in helper was a luxury, but now, many families with working parents have come to see a maid as a necessity.

I believe only two types of families cannot do without maids: those with young children, and those with elderly or sick members.

For all other families, there are many other options, such as day care, childcare or part-time help.

I used to have a maid to look after my young children when I was a working mother. But I am now a stay-at-home mum.

Our family could afford to continue hiring a maid, but we decided instead to train our two boys - then eight and six - to do some housework, and my husband agreed to help out at home when he is not travelling.

Every family member learns to do something in the house, such as making the bed, folding the clothes, or doing the dishes.

Instead of going to enrichment classes, the children do housework with us (bonding), learn to prepare a simple meal and clean up after cooking (basic life skills).

We were so used to having a maid for eight years that it had seemed impossible to live without one. It has been 11/2 years now, and our family is managing well.

When my children's classmates ask why they have no maid, they can answer proudly that we do not need one.

Having a maid is an easy option, as it is still fairly affordable to hire one in Singapore. But if our children grow up seeing all the cooking and household chores done only by the maid, they will grow up thinking there is no other option.

Emily Leong (Ms)
The title that the Straits Times chose for this letter is somewhat deceptive. It says that "most families" can do without maids. However, Emily Leong didn't actually say that.

What Emily did say was that families with young children, and families with elderly or sick members, do need maids (while other types of families do not). In addition, when Emily offered her own personal circumstances as an example, she pointed out that she doesn't need a maid because she is a stay-at-home mother.

So that would be another type of family (in Emily's opinion) that doesn't need a maid - families where there is a stay-at-home mother.

However, how many families in Singapore neither have a young child; nor an elderly person; nor a working mother? I doubt that there are that many such families. Certainly, I don't think that such families would constitute "most families" in Singapore.

In fact, I have never known any Singaporean family of the "young, married, no kids" variety, who bother to employ a maid at all.

Now, I offer a simple reason why so many other Singaporean families are dependent on maids. It's because Singaporeans have the longest working hours in the world (another one of our nation's unenviable world records):
Singapore sweats away the hours - and productivity
Singaporeans may not be aware that they have overtaken the industrious South Koreans in notching up the highest number of hours worked per year worldwide.
Sun, Jan 31, 2010
The Business Times


Here's a world-leading pole position for Singapore that probably explains quite a bit of its dismal productivity record of late.

Beavering away doggedly, Singaporeans may not be aware that they have, for the past two years, overtaken the industrious South Koreans in notching up the highest number of hours worked per year, worldwide.

Clocking 2,307 work hours in 2009 - a number that apparently has stayed constant since 1992, according to The Conference Board's data - the average Singaporean surpassed the other East Asians, the most hardworking globally.

Going by The Conference Board's Total Economy Database - which carries 'annual working hours' for 51 countries dating from 1950 - the South Koreans had been the undisputed workhorse world champions for three decades, ever since they overtook the previous leaders, the Taiwanese, in 1975. The Koreans and Taiwanese were clocking well over 2,700 hours a year for years.

But - as is the trend worldwide - annual working hours have fallen over the decades, including Korea's.

Singapore's 'constant' 2,307 annual hours exceeded Korea's in 2008. For 2009, Korea's 2,259 work hours fell behind even Hong Kong's 2,287 hours. Taiwan clocked in at 2,156 hours, while Japan's 1,722 is close to the US level (1,742 hours).

Apart from the East Asians, virtually everyone else (except Greece, Chile and Mexico) put in fewer than 2,000 hours a year, with many well under.

For Singapore, the long hours - especially in a year of poor output such as 2009 - would explain its recent poor productivity figures.
If Singaporeans spend so much time at work, the inevitable consequence is that they have less time to do their own household chores. Hence the dependence on maids.


lobo76 said...

I would say it is utterly deceptive, rather than just somewhat...

Anonymous said...

Emily could be proposing that instead of SAHM having maid, it is possible not to have maid and enrichment classes, and train the children to be responsible?

But very few household can afford single income nowadays if they have kids, and soon dependant elderly parents.

Anonymous said...

It might just be possible to do away with the maid if working hours are shorter both parents chip in to get the chores done. Very often, it is the mothers who beaver away at work and at home and are stressed and overworked. Most men do not put in their fair share when in comes to house work and child care. I think I speak for most women when I say that for my sanity, I will retain the maid.

Anonymous said...

There is probably not a shortage of maids worldwide but, like globalisation, maids are also looking for the best pay and working environment. Asian countries are just their stepping stone and learning stage.

On the issue of who really needs a maid, I think they should change the criteria to necessity rather than affordability. But, as in all things, those who can well afford would cry foul.

Kaffein said...

How many families can qualify with a single income, have manageable kids who can help housework, and a spouse helping out?

With this statement, you'd bet that the newspaper will misconstrue my words and report that I am claiming that families with such a setting can live without maids. Can any of you readers see how far my main point is lost?

What I am saying is how many mums can be SAHM (Stay-at-home-mums) with a single income. Not if families with manageable kids, helping husband can do away with maids.

It usually happens when newspapers sweep issues under the carpet and yet try to publish factual reports and cover-ups on blunders, bad policies or events gone horribly wrong, only to have it blown up in their faces with another reporting article.

Back to the maids and families story. Kudos to you, Mr Wang, for linking them together. These days I tend to see more chinks in the untarnished armor of the unblemished image of Singapore society.


Anonymous said...

It may not be just of a necessity to have maids.

After all, if Singaporeans can hanker after cash, credit, car, condo, club membership, etc (the so called desirable Cs), why not a maid too?

After all, with a maid or maid(s) at home doing the chores and in tow for family outing, it can even be regarded as a status symbol.

And nowadays, don't say man folks, even women folks do not want to do household chores! So if can afford a maid, why not? Status + relaxation with a maid!

Anonymous said...

Even million $ elite Mah wrote of his long hours @ "work"....i wonder does he employ any "affordable" maid(s)?

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, your recent posts are very interesting. You, Lucky Tan and Yawningbread are the most interesting socio-political bloggers in Singapore.

Anonymous said...

Parents and children in Singapore have been conditioned to have early lessons and late dismissals since young. Since parents usually fetch their kids on the way to work, this results in a lot of us parents coming into the workplace early, and leaving late to "coincide" with picking up the kids from school after CCA. It gets tiring after a while...

Anonymous said...

Do the million dollar PAP ministers and MPs and their households have maids? Why not ask them.

Anonymous said...

"Do the million dollar PAP ministers and MPs and their households have maids?"
Anon February 24, 2011 8:55 PM

Stupid question. If you live in a big landed property, how not to have no maids? Or how not to have no cars? These are basic necessities, not luxuries for this class of people.

Even million dollars are basic salary requirements to get their type of talent, not to say maids or cars.

Anonymous said...

Wow, the elections must be really close!

Lui's appointed army of PAP defenders are doing overtime for their masters. Hahaaaha, what a thankless task.

Anonymous said...

IF a stay-home-mom is able to afford a maid, would she spend her time washing dishes/cleaning/cooking with her children or spending time supervising their schoolwork/trips to museums/bookshops? The former activities are for the house while the latter is for the children. I do agree h/hold chores are good for children but our school hrs and load are heavy.

Anonymous said...

The notion of "unlocking" the second income, on hindsight, actually has economics effects not yet studied.

When you have 1 spouse at home, you effectively have an insurance against unemployment, prolonged sickness or death of the single breadwinner. The ability to live within the means of a single breadwinner provides society with a backup, should anything untoward happens. It helps to keep the family unit going.

By unlocking the second income with dual income families, our society moved towards higher consumption (and inflation), while losing the built in insurance against the lost of any one breadwinner. The social issues of dual incomes are very under-studied, and the consequences too little understood.

- Lip Hua

Anonymous said...

1990s - multi-tasking so that you stay employable. Top Management pay start to increase more as mid-management and junior staff pay start to stagnate.

2000s - bell shaped performance increments and bonus to reward "performance". Wage disparity become major concern.

Combine the above. What do you get?

Work middle managers and lower end more while paying them less. Resulting higher profit goes to those higher up.

Isn't income re-distribution an important role for Gov? Sigh...

They should srape "performance-related" bell curve, and better still multi-tasking. They do nothing but sabotage productivity as politics increase at lower end to win "performance curve".

Anonymous said...

You need to provide better pay to retain a maid. Other countries like HK & Taiwan can pay so much better, sooner or later, the monthly rates is going to be at SGD600-800.

Anonymous said...

When the Government argues that high wages will drive away jobs to cheaper destinations, employers are not blind to see what this means.

That is why they need to import cheaper foreign workers, with tbe Government's blessing, to make sure wages stagnate or even go downwards. As for local born workers it is either take it or leave it. What can they possibly do? They have little choice.

So, we call it progress. From single income to double income and many still unable to cope with cost of living. What does the future hold for our children?

DareToAct said...

Please repeat after me:

We are Singaporeans.
We can do without maid,
We can do without car,
We can do without home,
We can do without healthcare,
We can do without job,
We cannot do without being told what is right
We cannot do without being told what to do

Raelynn said...

SAHMs or not, observing my older cousins who have young children (one is a SAHM while the other is not), they can both benefit from having a maid. who said that if you have a maid you cannot inculcate the attitude of being responsible and independent? it all depends on how you bring up the children. if they were to say "but the maid is there, why do i have to do this?" then you have indeed failed as a parent.

and the current SAHM mentioned in the article, to put it very bluntly, had the luxury of having a maid when she had two young boys when they are most active and restless and hence make a sweeping statement.

Anonymous said...

if the mum is working, it is helpful if there is a maid to help out in housework, esp if the family has young kids and/or elderly. Though it is possible to do oneself, and provided husband chip in. Else, it is very tough for the woman who has to shoulder domestic duties besides a career.

Having said that, for SAHM, one can choose to do housework on top of upbringing children herself. But if can afford a maid, it would certainly be helpful as the SAHM can supervise the kids better in their work.

Of course, have to forgo privacy. But the part about upbringing spoilt kids if they have maid, it's really up to the parents to inclucate values. As long as Maid's role is for housework, and not personal assistant to do duty as expected of a mother or child

Mr Wang said...

Personally, I am a very time-conscious person. I value my time a lot and I make very deliberate decisions on what I will or will not spend my time on.

For example, I do not watch TV (I have not watched TV for many years). Neither do I do housework (my maid does it). I consider my personal time too valuable to be spent on either TV or housework.

In the same way, I would not want my children to do housework. Surely they have better things to do, such as studying, reading, cycling, swimming or even just relaxing (school nowadays can be quite stressful).

As for bonding, I can think of much better ways of bonding with kids, other than via a mop or over a stack of dirty dishes.

To each his own. But to those (Singaporean males) who disagree, I invite you to think back to your NSF days, doing area-cleaning in camp, picking up dead leaves, sweeping the floor etc. Did you really find that an enriching, beneficial experience for yourself?

If you did not, why would you wish it upon your children to do it? (Assuming you had a viable alternative such as a maid).

Your maid, at least, gets paid to do it.

Anonymous said...

Yahoo News today.

Japan's Mazda told to pay family in worker suicide

Japan has a law punishing companies for suicides from being overworked. If Singapore now puts in the most work hours, do we also have such a law?

Anonymous said...

Sorry it should be a "Law against death from overwork."

Anonymous said...

Digressing. But we should have a law against undue stress at work too.

Anonymous said...

Look at the Budget. For the past years it's all about getting you to do MORE work. Regradless we are the most overworked. It's your fault your time is less precious than mine.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, I wonder how the rest of the world manages then without maids. Reading these articles you would think that without a maid, no one could manage with young children. What a load of BS! That's the Singapore way maybe but the rest of the world we bring our children up ourselves and manage quite well. Why have children if you want to let a maid bring them up?