Bridging the Divide: Singapore’s Struggle With Wealth Inequality and Elitism

Goh Jun Cheng

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An affluent, developed economy, Singapore paints a portrait of widespread middle-class prosperity in aggregate terms.

However, substantial wealth inequality has also emerged as a byproduct of its rapid growth. While the nation’s per capita GDP ranks among the highest globally, not all segments of society are benefiting equally from Singapore’s economic transformation.

This article explores concerns around rising inequality, perceptions of elitism, impacts on social mobility, contributing factors, and potential policy responses.

As Singapore advances into the developed world, leaving no one behind and maintaining an inclusive, open society will define the character of its next stage of nationhood.

The Income Inequality Gap

  • Singapore’s GINI coefficient, a measure of income inequality, was 0.458 in 2018 – one of the highest for a developed economy.
  • The highest 10% income group possess around 45% of household wealth.
  • Such inequality exceeds other advanced Asian economies like Japan and South Korea.
  • Poorer families face stagnant wages and unaffordable costs of living.
  • Middle class also hit by wage squeezes and rising property prices.

An unequal growth trajectory risks fraying Singapore’s social compact.

Concerns Around Elitism

  • Extravagant elite lifestyles spotlighted on social media stoke perceptions of growing elitism.
  • Lavish conspicuous consumption seen as disconnected from everyday difficulties facing citizens.
  • Government perceived as overly representing the needs of the top income stratum.
  • High ministerial salaries necessary to deter corruption feed into elitism critiques.
  • Resentment that elites profit from links to government instead of productive capabilities.

Elitism perceptions corrode trust in institutions and meritocracy promises.

Impacts on Social Mobility

  • Upward mobility traditionally high in Singapore but concerns it is declining.
  • Children of lower-income households finding it harder to rise up the ladder due to inequality of opportunities.
  • Wealthy parents better able to invest in tuition and advantages for kids. Poorer kids left behind.
  • Property wealth not redistributed; limited inheritance taxes or social transfers.
  • Those starting behind stay behind, entrenching privilege.

Inequality undermines cherished values of advancement through effort for all Singaporeans.

Contributing Factors

Several dynamics drive widening inequality:

  • Globalization benefiting high-skilled while eroding middle class jobs.
  • Real wage stagnation at lower end but rising at top.
  • Reliance on cheap foreign labor depressing wages for locals.
  • Disparities in access to education, family support and social connections.
  • Tax policies and union presence favoring corporations over labor.

Multifaceted structural issues exacerbate inequality from the bottom to the top end.

Policy Responses to Mitigate Inequality

Potential solutions include:

  • Review tax and fiscal policies to promote more progressive redistribution. Inheritance taxes, luxury taxes.
  • Strengthen social security and welfare transfers for the disadvantaged.
  • Ensure wider access to affordable housing, healthcare and education.
  • Raise minimum wage appropriate to cost of living.
  • Encourage higher pay ratios within companies.
  • Facilitate SME growth to create quality jobs.
  • Enhance workers’ voices through greater collective representation.
  • Curb excessive college tuition industry pressures.

Targeted interventions can foster equitable, broad-based prosperity benefiting all Singaporeans.


Singapore now faces a reckoning between its extraordinary economic progress and social inequality impacts. Complacency around ever-widening wealth gaps corrodes social fabric.

Through pragmatic policies that provide fair opportunities, curb excessive accumulation, and restore inclusive growth, Singapore can live up to its ideals of a just society regardless of ethnicity or status. A new social compact must emerge for the next chapter of nation building.

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