Foreign brides are getting older and more educated: MSF data released for the first time

SINGAPORE – The profile of a foreign woman who marries a Singaporean man is changing, with many older and better educated than foreign brides of the past, data released by the Government for the first time showed.

Analysts say the change is a reflection of economic growth in the region. More than 90 per cent of the brides came from Asia.

The median age of non-resident (NR) brides, defined as those who are not Singapore citizens or permanent residents, was 29 years old in 2019. It was 27 years old a decade earlier and 26.1 years old in 2000.

The proportion of NR brides under the age of 25 was also lower, data released by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) on Thursday (April 22) showed.

In 2019, 12 per cent of all NR brides were under 25 years old, down from 36 per cent in 2000.

The women have higher educational qualifications as well, with two in three (66 per cent) in 2019 having post-secondary or university education. It was about one in three (36 per cent) in 2000.

Although the data did not provide a breakdown of countries, figures from 2019 showed that 96 per cent of the NR brides are from Asia.

An MSF spokesman said it publishes on an annual basis a series of aggregated statistical tables on its website, such as on marriage and divorce, to encourage research and to raise public awareness of emerging family trends and issues.

“As the profile of non-resident spouses is changing, it would be useful to release additional Singapore citizen and non-resident marriage statistics to raise the awareness of the general public, academics and students,” added the spokesman.

Observers say more Singaporeans are taking foreign spouses as a higher number of residents work, study and travel overseas.

In 2019, 4,426 Singaporean men wed an NR wife – a 15 per cent rise from 3,834 such unions in 2000.

The observers say Singaporean men are considered attractive husband-material for some women from neighbouring countries.

Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) president Margaret Thomas said women from developing countries marry foreigners for various reasons, including “access to better job opportunities or better wages, which would help them to support their families back home”.

However, she said that migrant spouses are not a homogeneous group, and individual women have unique motivations for marrying and migrating here.

Commenting on the changing profile of NR brides, Professor Paulin Straughan, a sociologist at Singapore Management University, said: “We now see a transformation of transnational marriages.

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“When we first started looking at this phenomenon, it was way back in the late 1990s and 2000s when we saw the inflow of foreign brides.

“When we mentioned foreign brides (in the past), we thought of women with low socio-economic status from the region who enter into marriages because of their families’ financial circumstances.”

But she said that the demographic profile has changed over the past 20 years, with economic growth in the region bringing greater educational and economic opportunities in their home countries.

Prof Straughan said the result is that foreign wives are better educated. Separately, the number of Singaporean men who are less educated and who may have difficulties finding a local wife has shrunk, she added.

Social workers have long raised concerns over transnational marriages involving older and less educated Singaporean men marrying young foreign women after a brief courtship.

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Some of these unions were plagued by problems including abuse, poverty and challenges in securing a long-term stay in Singapore.

A spokesman for Fei Yue Community Services, which runs marital programmes for transnational couples, said of older and more educated NR wives: “We expect these brides to have better jobs and a more stable residency in Singapore. With better jobs, there will be less stress and conflict over financial issues.

“The certainty over their residency in Singapore also gives a sense of belonging and enables them to play their marital and parenting roles better, which is important for building a strong family.”

The Fei Yue spokesman said many of the transnational couples it sees had met their spouses through friends and relatives, at work or while on holiday.

Few were matched through foreign brides matchmaking agencies.

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Aware’s Ms Thomas said female migrant spouses are stigmatised because they are deemed to have married to improve their economic circumstances, rather than for love.

“Questions about how transnational couples met often betray anxieties we have about foreign women taking advantage of Singaporean men to gain access to economic opportunities and citizenship benefits in Singapore,” she added.

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