Singapore Journal; How to Marry Up, and Avoid the Frogs and Nerds
By SETH MYDANS, Special to the New York Times
SINGAPORE— Daniel Lim is suffering from hypergamy, a widespread ailment that is causing Singapore’s Government serious concern about the future of its economy, social structure and national defense.
Hypergamy is the tendency to marry »upward,» used here to refer to the practice of women who choose a husband better educated, wealthier, even taller than they are – and to stay single if they cannot find such a person.
Fully 30 percent of college-educated women in Singapore, unable to find Prince Charming, remain unmarried today – even as nearly all their poorly educated sisters continue to marry and have babies. Settling for What’s Left
Men like Mr. Lim, according to Government officials, often end up marrying »downward» – hypogamy – after they fail to win a woman of their own educational level.
Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew expressed alarm at what he said this was doing to the gene pool a few years back, asserting: »Levels of competence will decline, our economy will falter, our administration will suffer, and society will decline.»
Apart from quality, quantity is also worrying Singpapore’s planners in light of the overwhelming success of the »two is enough» campaign for offspring in small families.
The planners are aiming for growth from the current population of 2.6 million to a goal of 3.4 million in the next few years. But the fertility rate – the number of children a woman is likely to bear – has dropped from 4.7 in 1965 to 1.44 last year, below the replacement rate of 2.1.
A year ago, the acting Health Minister, Yeo Cheow Tong, warned that the resulting decline in the young population would mean a drop in the tax base to support the elderly, as well as a lack of recruits for the armed forces. Redirected Incentives
In hopes that a new campaign will work as well as the old one, the Government is now urging people to have bigger families. It is offering a package of incentives that replace previous inducements to »stop at two.»
These include tax rebates, child-care subsidies and priorities in school admissions and in obtaining government-subsidized housing.
And in an effort to assure quality in a hoped-for baby boom, the Government has instituted a matchmaking service that seeks to marry off that 30 percent of educated women whose children, theory has it, will assure that society does not decline.
This service, the Social Development Unit, gets college-educated men and women together on moonlight »love cruises,» tea dances, bowling clinics and seminars on such subjects as personal investing or buying a used car.
The service says that it has 7,000 registered members – 40 percent of single college graduates – and that it has produced nearly 500 marriages since its founding in 1984. Smart Parents, Smart Kids
»If you want to produce geniuses, you have to get the graduate man to marry a graduate girl,» according to the unit’s deputy director, Helen Wang.
She said well-educated single women may be highly productive in the work place, »but they are not fulfilling their function of having families.»
A good part of the unit’s efforts go into propaganda, Mrs. Wang said.
»We try to tell our girls not to expect too much,» she explained. »They want looks. They want money. They want security. They want a tall man.
»We have to change those ideals. You cannot look for Mr. Right or Mr. Perfect. So we ask our women to play softer, to play a little dumb if possible.» Aging Nerds
In Singapore, she said, men tend to concentrate on their careers, to spend their time at their computer terminals, and to have little knowledge of social graces.
»Some men come to us at the age of 30 and say they have never had a date,» Mrs. Wang said. »They are scorned as nerds. They do not know how to behave, what to do with girls. We have a lot of nerds around here.»
So, she said, »we try to teach them – maybe not to be Prince Charmings, but we teach them to be halfway, and not be frogs.»
Mr. Lim, a quality surveyor for the Defense Ministry, 29 years old and single, is a prime prospect.
On the day of the interview, he was in Mrs. Wang’s office, going through a book of snapshots of a recent five-day seminar he attended on »personal effectiveness.» Let’s Not Procrastinate
»They were frank and direct,» Mr. Lim said. »You are in this for one thing: you are in this to be paired off as early as possible.»’
Mrs. Wang reminded him: »But we leave it to you whom to choose. We are not going to tell you whom to pair off with.»
Mr. Lim recalled, »The counselor was promoting me to the girls, and she was telling me, ‘You better move fast. She’s very popular.’ »
»May the best man win,» Mrs. Wang said.
Newspapers, ever responsive to Government campaigns, have joined the mating game with articles on the joys of dating and on overcoming shyness. Taking a Few Chances
A booklet called »Living and Loving,» published by the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore, urged young readers to give dating a try.
»Many young people in Singapore do not know what dating is all about except that it is a high-risk activity during which they may lose their high grades and their peace of mind, or become the subject of gossip,» the booklet said.
It suggested a number of »nutty ideas» for dates, including »playing scrabble on the beach armed with a dictionary and a thesaurus,» going to a foreign film at the Goethe Institute, and planning »how to kill your parents with kindness by being punctual for meals and doing the washing up afterward.»
Once its readers have gotten the idea, it urged them: »Now be creative and make up a list of all the nutty things you would like to do together, like after the exams.»
Photo of young people socializing in Singapore (AP for The NYT)