Why are Singapore youths no longer drawn to 5Cs?

Sometimes, it’s better not to talk about things when you have no idea what you’re talking about. Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

By Ryan Goh

Just the other day, it was reported that a local politician said this:

"In highlighting the mindset of youths today, Dr Maliki said that the Singaporean dream of possessing the 5Cs – cash, car, credit card, condominium and a country card membership – was “in the past” and that millennials are developing their own definition of success.

He added that the youths want to be excited about where they live, work and play, encapsulated by the You Only Live Once (YOLO) attitude."

That got me thinking and I think I’m well qualified to comment on this as part of the generation in between the ones who aspired to have 5Cs and the youths that Dr Maliki had in mind. In fact, by examining my generation, it becomes pretty clear why youths today make the choices they do.

The generation that aspired to have the 5Cs was the generation that grew up in the late 80s/early 90s. This was the generation that experienced the “Asian Miracle” which culminated in the Asian Financial Crisis of ’97.

Why did everyone want the 5Cs?

The reasons why those five objects became aspirational goods is a 90s thing.

Cash is pretty self-explanatory. From time immemorial, more cash has always equalled more wealth. As for cars, they were included in the list simply because cars are expensive in Singapore. It was true in the 90s and it’s true today.

Credit cards were also aspirational goods as qualifying for a credit card used to mean that you had a certain level of income. Condominiums were also a hit not so much because they come with amenities such as tennis courts and swimming pools. It’s more of the fact that in Singapore, almost everyone stays in public housing. Condominiums were a sign that one had escaped the drudgery of public housing.

Lastly, the country club. Country clubs used to be the place to see and be seen. Spending time on the golf course was both a way to do business and a sign that you didn’t need to be stuck behind a desk.

So, why have the 5Cs fallen out of favour?

How the 5Cs died

It’s simple, really. The aspirational goods for an older generation don’t hold the same appeal for a younger generation. It’s pretty much the same with fashion. What looked cool to our parents looks dumb to us.

Not all the 5Cs have died of course. More cash is still preferable to less cash although, in most modern societies, we carry less of around. Having your own car has become more a status symbol than before thanks to the increased connectivity of public transport and private ride-hailing services.

However, the country club and credit card dream is mostly dead for different reasons. Country clubs are old and stodgy and frankly, not good value for money. Why pay membership fees to hang out in a place that doesn’t really offer anything appealing. It’s much more accessible and affordable to check out the latest cafe with instagrammable backdrops or food.

Credit cards, on the other hand, are handed out so freely that this isn’t really a dream any longer. Even a graduate fresh out of university gets one in the mail. Imagine that! Someone just starting out in the workforce, possibly shouldering some student debt is considered good credit as long as he/she has a job.

Owning a condominium unit is the one that I’m not sure about. Those my age have probably come to realise that the standard of public housing nowadays isn’t all that bad. Furthermore, land prices have become so expensive that the only way developers make money is by selling condominium units that are much smaller than before.

So are young people less materialistic?

It’s strange to think that people, as a group, change over time. After all, we are subject to the same psychological biases that major religions identified thousands of years ago. So what is it with the youths of today?

Simply put, experiences are the new aspirational good. Travelling has become more accessible with budget airlines and Airbnb. Furthermore, the internet now provides enough information for anyone to travel easily and cheaply.

Also, your friends on social media are going to get bored of seeing your car or house every single hour. It’s much more interesting if you have something new to show off. Like that new cafe you checked out, that new place you visited, the new shoes or bag you bought*.

In short, it’s stupid to think that things have changed. Our grandparents had their aspirations. Our parents had theirs, and our young will have their own as well. It’s nothing to do with YOLO**.


*It’s hard to show off a new car or house every single day. Besides, if you do this, people are going to think that you sell cars or houses for a living. Not exactly what rich people want to be mistaken for.

**Btw, Dr Maliki is also showing how much of a generation gap he has with the young. YOLO was so 2012.

This was first published over at Mr Ryan Goh's blog. It is reproduced with permission.


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