Transnational Marriage and Women’s Situated Agency in Singapore

Dr Bernice Loh2

2Centre for Family and Population Research, National University Of Singapore, , Singapore

Transnational marriages – mainly between a Singaporean groom and a foreign bride – form a sizeable proportion of marriages registered in Singapore. The majority of the non-citizen women who marry Singaporean men come from Asia and specifically from developing nations in the region. In public discourse, foreign brides are often cast as harbingers of social problems: causing broken marriages, cheating Singaporean men of their savings or using marriage as a means to permanent residency. State policy tends to take a “social problems” approach to transnational marriages. Our study on transnational families in Singapore however, reveal a different story. Interviews with 49 foreign wives and 38 Singaporean husbands show that rather than a liability, non-citizen wives alleviate the experience of economic precarity of the family. Not only do they take on carework within the household, a majority of these wives also routinely take on casual jobs to supplement the family income. Departing from the “social problems” template, we give weight instead to women’s situated agency from a poststructural feminist approach as they work through their married lives. We offer a counternarrative to public discourses surrounding citizen-foreigner marriages, shedding more light on the everyday lived realities of transnational wives and families in Singapore.


Bernice Loh is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for Family and Population Research, National University of Singapore. She is currently working on the Singapore Longitudinal Early Development Study (SGLEADs) conducting an ethnography of transnational families in Singapore, focusing on how these families raise children in cross-cultural homes.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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