Explaining the continuum of social participation among older adults in Singapore: from 'closed doors' to active ageing in multi-ethnic community settings

S. Aw*, G. Koh, Y.J. Oh, M.L. Wong, H.J.M. Vrijhoef, S.C. Harding, M.A.B. Geronimo, C.Y.F. Lai, Z.J.L. Hildon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objectives: This study aims to identify and explain the continuum in which older people in Singapore participate in community and social life, highlighting the influence of culture and policy context on social participation. Methods: Using an ethnographic approach in a neighbourhood (n = 109), we conducted focus groups with older adults of different ethnicities, exploring experiences of social participation. Next, participants took 50 photographs relating to 'lives of elders', showcasing the socio-ecological context that influenced social participation. Lastly, go-along interviews were conducted in various precincts with community leaders. Results: A continuum of social participation emerged among older adults, ranging from (1) marginalization and exclusion, to (2) 'comfort-zoning' alone (3) seeking consistent social interactions, (4) expansion of social network, and (5) giving back to society. Seeking consistent social interactions was shaped by a preference for cultural grouping and ethnic values, but also a desire for emotional safety. Attitudes about expanding one's social network depended on the psychosocial adjustment of the older person to the prospect of gossip and 'trouble' of managing social relations. Despite the societal desirability of an active ageing lifestyle, cultural scripts emphasizing family meant older adults organized participation in social and community life, around family responsibilities. Institutionalizing family reliance in Singapore's welfare approach penalized lower-income older adults with little family support from accessing subsidies, and left some living on the margins. Discussion: To promote inclusiveness, ageing programs should address preferences for social participation, overcoming barriers at the individual, ethnic culture and policy level.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-55
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Aging Studies
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017


  • Social participation
  • Culture
  • Retirement context
  • Adaptive capability
  • LIFE
  • WELL

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