S'pore research firm explains Sunday Times survey that deemed artists 'non-essential'

The firm clarified that respondents were shown a definition of 'essential workers' which narrowed the term to cover 'basic human needs'.

Andrew Koay | June 16, 2020, 07:50 PM

The results of a recent survey published on June 14 in the Sunday Times has set Singaporeans talking after it ranked artists as the number one non-essential job.

This appeared to rankle some of the nation's art community with many individuals rebutting the survey's findings in social media posts and comments.

Now, Milieu Insight, the Singapore-based consumer research firm that conducted the survey, has published a clarification and response to the uproar.

Provided a list of 20 jobs

The poll was commissioned by The Straits Times on Jun. 3, 2020, who provided the firm with an initial set of questions. Milieu Insight then revised questions before conducting the survey.

The firm explained how the survey was conducted and also detailed how questions were presented to the 1,000 participants who provided responses.

According to their clarification, pollsters prompted respondents with the following definition of "essential workers" before having them answer the questions:

"In this survey we're going to be asking your opinion about essential workers in Singapore. By 'essential workers' we mean someone who is engaged in work deemed necessary to meet basic needs of human survival and well-being, such as food, health, safety and cleaning."

"This statement was included to ensure there was a baseline understanding of the term 'essential workers' among the respondents from the beginning of the survey," the firm said.

Respondents were then presented with the following list of occupations:

  • Artist
  • Cleaner
  • Construction worker
  • Business consultant
  • Deliveryman
  • Doctor
  • Engineer
  • Garbage collector
  • Hawker
  • Human resource manager
  • IT technician
  • Nurse
  • Politician
  • PR specialist
  • Security guard
  • Social media manager
  • Teacher
  • Telemarketer
  • University professor

With reference to the list, pollsters then asked the following questions:

  1. "Please select the jobs that you think are MOST essential from the list below"
  2. "Now select which of the remaining jobs you think are absolutely NOT essential."

Milieu Insight said that respondents were asked multi-select questions (meaning they could choose multiple options).

Respondents were not asked to rank the jobs, and there was also an option to say "I don't think any of these are essential/non-essential".

The "rankings" that appeared in the Sunday Times were instead a reflection of which jobs were selected the most in response to either question.

In their explanation of the survey, the firm also emphasised that respondents were not shown an exhaustive list of jobs.

"In particular, respondents were sorting jobs based on what they deemed essential vs non-essential according to a) the definition of “essential jobs” provided and b) the shortlist of jobs shown," they wrote.

They elaborated that the results did not necessarily mean that Singaporeans view artists or HR professionals as not valuable, or even essential in the context of things like happiness or stability.

Understood in its context

The firm also responded to critique of the survey's finding regarding whether essential workers should be paid more.

"The common critique we observed is that respondents would not have the necessary context or experience to provide a meaningful response," said Milieu Insight.

However, the firm clarified that respondents were shown figures for the minimum wages or medium monthly salaries of these occupations before answering the questions.

Ultimately, the survey's results — as with any research — had to be understood in its context, said Milieu Insight.

"In this case, 'essential workers' has been a recurring narrative for many Singaporeans in the news over the last few months, and so respondents were answering in a post-Covid-19 context."

According to Milieu Insight, the survey polled 1,000 people in Singapore aged 16 and above.

They were asked 19 questions — which took approximately five minutes in total — between June 12 to 15.

Milieu Insight's full explanation can be found here.

Top photo by Debby Hudson via Unsplash and by Ashley Tan via Sunday Times