SINGAPORE, Sept 6 — Singapore has the highest level of social cohesion compared to other countries from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), followed by Thailand and the Philippines, a survey has found.

The study, titled Southeast Asian Social Cohesion Radar, was conducted by adjunct senior fellow Jolene Jerard, senior analyst Vishalini Suresh and Associate Professor Paul Hedges from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at the Nanyang Technological University from February 10 to April 6.

It was the first of its kind to be conducted in Southeast Asia, with previous research conducted in Europe. The report stated that social cohesion refers to “the state of affairs in which there are stable interactions among members of a society that take place in various domains of human associate life”.

The researchers surveyed a total of 1,000 thought leaders — 100 from each of the 10 Asean member states, which were defined as “individuals who possess domain expertise in academia, the public sector, businesses, civil society and religious organisations where they would be in positions that influence public opinion”.

“Speaking to thought leaders would be a judicious start to understanding the ground realities and challenges,” the report said.

Data was collected anonymously via an online 20-minute survey and where an online survey was not possible, a telephone survey was done instead. The questionnaires were made available in nine languages, including English, Bahasa Indonesia, Malay, Thai and Vietnamese.

The study’s framework was an adaptation from Bertelsmann Stiftung’s framework, which identifies three domains that contribute to social cohesion: Social relations, connectedness and focus on the common good, which are then further organised into three dimensions.

Current state of social cohesion

The overall level of social cohesion in Southeast Asia was at 69 per cent. This was reflected by the percentage of those who saw social cohesion overall as “strong”, the report stated.

The level of social cohesion in Singapore was found to be “the highest in the Southeast Asian region”.

However, the researchers pointed out that the study should not be taken as a ranking of the most and least socially cohesive societies in Southeast Asia, because “quantifiable metrics may or may not reflect a variety of intangible and qualitative factors that play into the actual situation of cohesion in any location”.

The levels of social cohesion by country are:

• Singapore ― 81 per cent

• Thailand ― 73 per cent

• Philippines ― 73 per cent

• Indonesia ― 73 per cent

• Cambodia ― 73 per cent

• Vietnam ― 72 per cent

• Laos ― 68 per cent

• Malaysia ― 68 per cent

• Myanmar ― 65 per cent

• Brunei ― 57 per cent

Determinants of social cohesion in Southeast Asia

Social relations, which refers to the creation of cohesion through relationships between individuals and societal groups characterised by trust and allow for diversity, played the strongest role in influencing social cohesion in the region.

• Countries that fared the highest in the social relations domain were Singapore (97 per cent), Indonesia (87 per cent) and Thailand (83 per cent)

• The three countries that had the weakest social relations were Brunei (74 per cent), Myanmar (76 per cent) and Cambodia (78 per cent)

Connectedness had the second largest effect on social cohesion. It refers to the promotion of cohesion through a positive identification with the country and a high level of confidence in its institutions and perception that social conditions are fair.

• Singapore (89 per cent), Thailand (76 per cent) and the Philippines (75 per cent) were ranked highest

• Those that performed the weakest in the connectedness domain were Brunei (54 per cent), Myanmar (61 per cent) and Cambodia (69 per cent)

A focus on the common good, which promotes cohesion through actions and attitudes that help the weak, had the weakest effect on social cohesion in the region.

• The countries that ranked the highest in this domain were Malaysia (67 per cent), Philippines (63 per cent) and Thailand (60 per cent)

• The countries that ranked the lowest were Brunei (43 per cent), Cambodia (48 per cent) and Laos (49 per cent)

Determinants of social cohesion in each country

• Social networks were perceived to affect social cohesion in Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam the most

• Identification, which means that people feel strongly connected to their country and identify with it, as well as a respect for social rules had the highest importance in Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos and Cambodia

• Solidarity and helpfulness were perceived to have the highest importance in Brunei and Thailand

• Civic participation, which means that people participate in society and political life, as well as enter into public discussions, was perceived to have the highest impact on the social cohesion score in Myanmar ― TODAY