On completing a government survey

Cross-posted to Metroblogging Singapore.

We got a letter from the Ministry of Manpower last week, informing us that our household had been shortlisted to participate in their annual labour force survey. I actually have a penchant for doing surveys (filling out forms is fun!) and government surveys get my full attention because I don't think I'm a very "typical" Singaporean, so I like to think that my survey tells the government a little something they didn't expect.

Of course, there's also the possibility that my survey results merely generate such pronounced statistical outliers than my perspective is effectively rendered moot. But anyways.

The first thing that stumped me about this survey was having to indicate the Head of Household. The survey defines the Head as "normally the eldest member, the main income-earner or the person who manages the affairs of the household."

To wit, my "household" situation:
  • My household consists of exactly two people: my husband and myself.
  • Between the two of us, my husband wins, hands-down, the prize for being the "eldest member" of the household.
  • But the question of who is the "main" income-earner isn't as straightforward as that. He used to make more than me, then he switched careers and I made more than him, but this year I switched careers too, so the jury's still out on who's going to emerge as the "main" moneymaker.
  • As for managing the affairs of the household, what does that mean anyway? Is it the person in whose name the utilities are registered (me) and paid for (shared)? Is it the person who pays for our home mortgage (shared)? Is it the person who bought the last household appliance (a rice cooker, me)? Is it the person who answers the door (usually the cat)?
  • Finally, why can't a couple be jointly Head of their Household? Why must there be only one Head?
(Of course, if you believe the Internal Inland Revenue Authority, the Head/"main" income-earner must be my husband because every year they give him a Personal Identification Number (PIN) that enables him to file our online income tax returns returns jointly --- whereas the PIN I get is for I, me and myself.)

Anyway, I decided that in the interests of skewing the Labour Force Survey results, I would put myself down as the Head of Household. After all, I was the one logging in to fill out the survey, right?

Then we got to that little category that is so fanatically important in Singapore officialdom: race. My identity card identifies me with an Indian sub-category that I've always felt isn't entirely accurate in terms of my ethnically mixed ancestry. I tried to get it changed once, but was firmly told by a government official that the category I wanted (Ceylonese-Chinese) didn't exist in their system and so I would have to pick one and couldn't elide the two. Rather than contend with the impossible impenetrability that is a government bureaucracy, I decided then to leave my identity card information as status quo.

This survey provided even more limited options: Chinese, Malay, Indian or Others. The survey's definitions of race state that the Chinese/Malay/Indian categories are for people of Chinese/Malay/Indian descent respectively, and "Others" is for everyone else. It doesn't tell you what to do if you're of both Chinese and Indian descent, so I decided to go with "Others".

Now that those two pesky questions were out of the way, the rest of the survey was actually a breeze. You can see the survey questions for yourself.

Our only other somewhat atypical response was for "employment status", where we both clock in as what the survey terms an "Own Account Worker": "a person who operates his own business without employing any paid workers in the conduct of his business or trade." I'm glad to give the numbers for this category a boost because I think there are more of us solo/independent operators around than people realise, and that has all sorts of implications on a country's economic and social systems.

So now I've done my citizenly duty for the year. Can't wait till the next form comes along.


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At 8/30/2006 7:50 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's strange that your id would have you down under the Indian sub-category since that technically only counts for 1/4 of our background. Weird. I guess you could only be Chinese if you were 100% Chinese the way you can only be white if you're 100% white... or is this just my cynicism speaking?

At 8/30/2006 9:46 pm , Blogger mis_nomer said...

I had to fill up this survey too. It gave me great satisfaction to tell the govt that I am the sole breadwinner in a family of three, and that both my parents have been out of a job for over a year, and that our entire household income was less than $2,000. I didn't know it was possible to fill up a form with vengence, but I did. :)

At 8/30/2006 10:03 pm , Blogger Tym said...

nardac > It's not so much the "one drop of non-Chinese blood makes you non-Chinese" philosophy, but that the definition of race (in itself a problematic term) in this country is predicated on one's father's officially designated race.

mis_nomer > Hey, I didn't get the question on household income! I wonder why that is ...

At 8/30/2006 10:08 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

that's inland revenue authority

At 8/30/2006 10:10 pm , Blogger Tym said...

Anonymous > My bad! Thanks.


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