Commentary: Government matchmaking programmes needs a rethink to get singles to mingle

Commentary: Government matchmaking programmes needs a rethink to get singles to mingle

A couple on a date. (Photo: Unsplash/rawpixel)
SINGAPORE: Last month, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) released Singapore’s annual Population in Brief report.The report showed that the proportion of singles in most age groups had gone up, with the biggest increase among Singaporean women aged 25 to 29.
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ENCOURAGING MARRIAGESThe Government established the Social Development Unit (SDU) in January 1984 to encourage greater social interaction and marriage among graduate singles, on the back of the 1980 population census which revealed an increasing trend of singlehood among graduate women.
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The SDN has also since moved into accrediting dating agencies, leveraging the private sector to solve this public problem.Although we do not have data on how many children or couples got hitched because of SDN, dating agencies accredited by the SDN have reported that more men are participating in these events.
But not everyone eligible for the SDN programme is making use of it. Part of the reason might be the social stigma involved in participation.People fear that they will be perceived by others as “unwanted” and “undesirable” if they have to resort to matchmaking. The pool of singles engaged in the SDN programme inevitably shrinks this way, so that the number of marriages which form as a result of the programme is not as large as it could potentially be. 

Local dating agency CompleteMe held a mass dating event for 126 singles at the York Hotel on Dec 14 last year. The event created a record in the Singapore Book of Records for the Largest Gokon Gathering. (Photo: CompleteMe)
The key is therefore to ensure that singles buy-in to the idea of such activities and do not see involvement in these activities as a social stigma. One approach to this is through public education and advertising, to shift mindsets and normalise the search for a life partner, even before people hit the eligibility age of 20.This way, people are less likely to be misinformed by negative stereotypes and will have a more positive picture of what the network can do for them.REMOVING AGE RESTRICTIONS IN ACTIVITIESAnother way SDN can extend its outreach is by not limiting its activities to certain age groups. Currently, some activities stipulate an age restriction. One such event on the agency’s website for a dinner date imposed an age restriction requiring participating males to be 32 to 45 and females aged 22 to 35 to participate.While these age restrictions may be motivated by certain economic considerations and preferences, they are ironic given that they preclude older females, who are the most likely group to be actively seeking a long-term partner.It might be useful for policymakers to undertake a rigorous study that considers behavioural science, economic and social factors to figure out how best to nudge singles, and determine how well our social development programmes have been doing, as well as how the SDN can benefit more singles going forward.Until such an exercise it done, it would be premature to label our social development efforts unsuccessful. 
Kelvin Seah Kah Cheng is a lecturer in the Department of Economics, National University of Singapore and a Research Affiliate at the Institute of Labour Economics in Bonn, Germany.
Source: CNA/nr