Monday, October 10, 2011

Are Singaporeans Really Materialistic? (Part One)

The title of the article was provocative: Singapore Girls Are Materialistic.

This did not surprise many of my male counterparts back home. In fact, going by the Facebook shares and comments on my newsfeed, it seemed like they felt vindicated.

Upon reading the article, however, I figured that the article probably articulated the study’s results in a provocative way for journalistic purposes, and that the study probably concluded no such thing as Singapore girls are materialistic.

Definition of “Materialism” defines “materialism” (in our context) as “preoccupation with or emphasis on material objects, comforts, and considerations, with a disinterest in or rejection of spiritual, intellectual, or cultural values.”

Hence, someone who is materialistic is not merely obsessed with material things, but is also indifferent, or even dismissive, of intellectual or cultural values.

Study Did NOT Conclude That Singapore Women Are Materialistic

A quick search on Google proved me right. The study (Mate preferences in the US and Singapore: A cross-cultural test of the mate preference priority model) surveyed two groups of students – female undergraduate students from Singapore, and female undergraduate students in, DeKalb, Illinois (a college town about 65 miles west of Chicago), and concluded that “men prioritize physical attractiveness and women prioritize social status as necessities in their long-term mates” (see abstract).

Singapore women merely scored higher than their DeKalb counterparts on the survey. This alone hardly makes them materialistic or even more materialistic than women from other countries, as addressed in the next section. This is especially so with the definition of “materialism,” since the study did not address the respondents’ concern with cultural and intellectual values.

Limitations of the Study

In the discussion part of the paper, the authors acknowledge that one of the limitations of the study is that Singapore is a thriving metropolis (in my words, a "real" city), whereas DeKalb is a college town in Midwestern America. The authors concede that had the second sample been from a similarly urban campus (such as in New York City), the statistical differences between the results from the two groups may be smaller.

Another point the authors didn’t raise – perhaps out of political correctness – is that undergraduates at the Singapore Management University tend to be among the best of their cohort academically (due to the Singapore education system), whereas that is not the case for students at Northern Illinois University (which US News Ranking ranked #194 among National Universities as of October 2011).  Differences in academic ability, which the authors didn’t consider in their study, may have contributed to the differences in what women in both schools look for in their mates.

Finally, the study restricted its sample to undergraduates, which in both the American and the Singapore contexts mean that the samples were largely between 18 and 22 years of age (for girls, at least, due to compulsory military service for men in Singapore). At that age, both boys and girls are understandably impressionable and inexperienced in the ways of the world. Their views of the world will change quickly after they join into the workforce. To insinuate that ALL Singapore girls – regardless of age – are “materialistic” based on a survey of mainly 18 to 22-year-olds is hardly justifiable.

Criticism of the Yahoo! article aside, I started asking: Are Singaporeans really that materialistic?

(Part Two can be found here.)

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