More remain socially conservative

SINGAPORE - More Singaporeans remain socially conservative - preferring some censorship in the public interest and rejecting gay lifestyles - although the younger generations are increasingly liberal.

In the survey of 4,000 citizens commissioned by the Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) exercise, a section on social values asked respondents to pick between opposing goals.

For example, they were asked if they preferred "limits on freedom of expression to prevent social tensions" or "complete freedom of expression even at risk of social tensions". Some 40 per cent went for limits, while 37 per cent went for complete freedom.

The rest had no preference. Asked if they preferred to "censor media content to protect public interest" or "do not censor media content at all", 39 per cent picked censorship while 36 per cent went the other way.

On alternative lifestyles, more respondents rejected gay lifestyles and marriage than accepted them. Around 47 per cent said they rejected gay lifestyles, while 26 per cent said they accepted them; 55 per cent rejected gay marriage, while 21 per cent accepted it. The rest were neutral.

What jumped out to researchers was the generational disparity in respondents' picks. On gay lifestyles especially, the younger the respondent, the more likely he was to signal acceptance.

Among those aged 50 to 69 years old, for example, the scales were tipped 56 per cent to 20 per cent with the majority rejecting gay lifestyles. This balanced out among those aged 20 to 34: the proportion of those who accepted and rejected gay lifestyles was even at 35 per cent each.

A similar trend was observed in respondents' picks on censorship and freedom of expression.

But National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser said that the trend did not mean Singapore will inevitably liberalise over time. "There are two theories among researchers on social values... One is the life-cycle theory, that people change from being liberal to conservative as they grow older."

For instance, one's answer to whether those below age 21 should be allowed to watch R(A) films would likely change from when one is 18, to when one is the parent of an 18-year-old, he said.

But the other theory is that social values tend to conform to the era where one is born, and then remain more or less fixed throughout one's life. To tell which theory pans out in Singapore, these questions would have to be repeated in surveys in the future.

Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad said the Internet has been a game-changer in exposing the younger generation to broader influences than their parents.

But signalling acceptance of gay lifestyles on an abstract level when one is young does not rule out a different reaction should, for example, one's children in the future come out as gay. "Society is changing, but we are not quite sure how much and how far."

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