Lee Wei Ling: Singaporeans prize intelligence too

From ‘Smart guys win fair ladies’, 7 Aug 2011, article by Lee Wei Ling, Think, Sunday Times

…I am not a psychologist, but I do not believe Singaporean men are so simple-minded or our women so calculating as Prof (Norman) Li’s findings (that women are significantly more materialistic than their American peers) indicate. So I constructed a simple questionnaire asking what people would look for in a potential spouse. I listed seven features for my responders to rate: attractiveness, intelligence, occupation, social status, education level, wealth and temperament.

…I would hazard the suggestion that mine (survey) is representative of Singaporeans. And I would further suggest that there are grounds to believe that both Singaporean men and women prize intelligence in their spouses, though some of the men may be intimidated by women more intelligent than they are.

Perhaps former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s repeated exhortation that well-educated men should marry women as well, if not  better, educated as they are, so as to produce intelligent offspring, has finally changed public opinion.

Norman Li’s study assessed the preferences of  19 -21 years old psychology students, while Lee Wei Ling’s informal poll was conducted on security officers, clerks, clinic assistants and doctors (probably within her own hospital) . Therein lies the problem of both studies, that they’re hardly representative of the true population, a limitation which Norman Li et al acknowledged in the conclusion of his paper.  There is also the issue of whether it’s fair to pose these questions to people who are already married, as their choice of attributes may be used to justify the choice of their spouse, regardless of how happy they actually are in the marriage.

According to Wei Ling’s findings, women rated looks the lowest and  intelligence as tops. But if you look closer at the top 3 qualities for women they are intelligence, education and occupation. It’s hard not to ignore the correlation between these 3 attributes and wealth and social standing (4th and 5th respectively). So by deliberately selecting attributes which are so closely linked and forcing her subjects to choose, this led to a situation whereby ‘nicer sounding’ terms like the top 3 were chosen over social status and wealth, which suggests that intelligence alone is not enough; it should come with some level of success. For men, the contradiction lies in the desire for intelligent woman without the social standing.

Intelligence (60% M – 1, 66.7% F -1)

Attractiveness (42.5% M – 2 , 17.5% F – 6)

Occupation (36.2% M – 3, 35.5% F – 3)

Social status (23.8% M- 6, 26.8% F – 5)

Education (32.5% M – 4, 43.6% F – 2)

Wealth (25% M- 5, 19.3% F – 4)

Temperament was rated separately, with both sexes agreeing on the importance of kindness and truthless, with a meagre percentage on filial piety. Both studies have different objectives too. The SMU study was intended to show how perceptions of an ideal partner among Singaporean women could explain our dismal fertility rate, i.e being choosy and wanting more money is detrimental to population growth, as well as to compare American and Singaporean mate preferences. For Wei Ling, she just seems determined to prove that ‘looks are not everything’ and even exhibits disturbing echoes of her father’s controversial theory that smart parents breed smart children (More graduate men marrying graduate women, 18 Aug 1986, ST). An unnecessary remark really, especially when there’s no proof that children will turn out as smart and well-off as their smart and well-off parents.

The perception of  intelligence itself is somewhat subjective. Would those  who voted intelligence date a smart man, even a graduate,  from a poor family background, or if he’s unemployed? It would seem possible on paper, but unfortunately the real world doesn’t work that way. Why people marry is a complex interplay of luck, circumstance and mate attributes, and just because women prefer rich men and men pretty women doesn’t mean our society is doomed to fail. Not only is her methodology primitive by scientific standards, but no investigator, especially a single, successful, brilliant, self admittedly ‘aesthetically challenged’ woman like Wei Ling herself, should embark on such surveys with a preconceived notion which would just bias her conclusions and cast doubt on her methods. Compare her selection criteria with those of Norman’s below, which excludes terms like ‘social status’ or ‘wealth’, instead using more objective, restrained terms like ‘good earning capacity’.

Although both studies included the fuzzy ‘intelligence’ as an indicator, you can milk a few more suggestions about young Singaporean women from the SMU study, that they value ‘kindness and understanding’ (ranked a desirable 2.57) and don’t care much for being ‘creative and artistic’ or ‘good housekeeper’. This means struggling artists have no chance with Singaporean women. For the men, ‘kindness’ ranks tops, but little value is placed on educational level or whether she does housework, which implies that men are more tolerant when it comes to the skills of their mates, as long as she’s physically appealing, has a good heart and not smarter than them. But I have to emphasise that as much as this mirrors what we already know, it’s not the kind of data one should cast in stone and readily brand our women as money-grubbers or men as shallow. Mate expectations also change as people get older. What surprises me though, is how both Wei Ling and Norman failed to assess one characteristic which I believe most women would rank quite highly in a potential partner: GSOH (Good sense of humour)

One also shouldn’t slam Norman’s conclusion on the impact of a materialistic mindset and birth rate, since he also factored in ‘satisfaction with life’ and ‘desire to have children’ scores, which are both critical in influencing fertility rates and may be related to this obsession with worldly possessions, again a trait that Lee Wei Ling disapproves of. A random trawl through local personal ads reveals some popular character-driven traits people use on themselves or their dates: fun-loving, easy-going, simple, open-minded, honest, spontaneous, intellectual. I had trouble finding ‘intelligent’, though ‘intellectual’ has a hint of ‘smarts’ but without the ‘better qualifications’ connotation.

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One Response

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