4 in 5 young adults in Singapore experience quarter-life crisis: study

S'pore ranked 4th out of 16 territories polled on prevalence of anxiety felt by the youth

Ms Huien Lim, 24, has held four jobs in the last two years. The liberal arts graduate spent seven months in a production house, the next four months in an accounting firm and another four months in a creative start-up.

Before landing her "ideal" job in public relations late last year, the millennial found herself so lost that she searched for the term "quarter-life crisis" on Google.

"The search results reassured me that many young people also felt the same way and so I did not feel so alone,"said Ms Lim.

A study has found that, like Ms Lim, four in five young professionals in Singapore have experienced a "quarter-life crisis".

Singapore ranked fourth out of 16 territories in terms of the prevalence of experiences of quarter-life crisis in the study by professional social network LinkedIn. The top ranked is India, followed by the Philippines and Hong Kong.

Psychologists define a quarter-life crisis as a period of life in the 20s to 30s when a young adult feels anxiety and distress in making the transition to adulthood.

The phenomenon was first documented in a 2001 book titled Quarterlife Crisis, by journalist Alexandra Robbins and website administrator Abby Wilner.


For the older generation, it was bread-and-butter issues of security and stability. But for the new generation, it is about lifestyle and projecting an image of success.

MR MARTIN GABRIEL, founder of human resources consultancy firm HRmatters21, on how the definition of success has evolved over time.

However, it is only in recent years that academics and psychologists started publishing research on it, and only late last year that LinkedIn did a survey to collect data on quarter-life crisis.

The LinkedIn survey, which polled some 18,000 adults aged between 25 and 33 in 16 regions, including 1,000 respondents in Singapore, found that a quarter-life crisis is most likely to be felt by Singaporeans aged between 25 and 28.

Among Singaporeans who have experienced a quarter-life crisis, about half said it lasted for up to one year, while 30 per cent said they are still experiencing it beyond a year.

Ms Lim, for instance, worried about finding the right job. Anxiety about how others would view her serial job-hopping also affected her sleep at night.

Mr Nathan Aw, 31, who has switched jobs six times in the last four years, has felt a "persistent restlessness".

He took on various technical roles in companies such as Oracle, Accenture and NTT Data before feeling satisfied with a job as a blockchain engineer at a bank.

Said Mr Roger Pua, a senior director at LinkedIn: "The study seems to suggest a prevalent feeling of 'performance anxiety' about finding the right job fit among young professionals, who make up a significant part of our workforce."

When young professionals in Singapore were asked what they worry about, the top concern is finding a job that they are passionate about. This is also the top concern of young people polled in other countries.

Human resource (HR) practitioners interviewed say that a growing number of young people are experiencing pressures previously felt by those in their 40s.

They say those in their 20s are quitting corporate jobs to become chess players, bakers or wildlife photographers.

These people can do so as they grew up in an age of affluence and can focus on self-actualisation goals earlier, instead of basic needs.

"The mid-life crisis is common and rampant, but now it is being brought forward and hitting young people at critical ages such as 25 and 32 years old," said Mr Delane Lim, an HR consultant who has worked with young people with mental health issues.

Previous media reports have found more young people here seeking help for depression. Figures from help group Samaritans of Singapore show that the age range most at risk of suicide is 20 to 29 years.

Latest figures show that there were 77 suicides in this age range in 2016, a 40 per cent increase from the 55 seen a decade ago in 2006.

Mr Lim said 25 is the age at which many have been in the workforce for a few years and get a taste of the reality that they are up against.

"When that happens, they often reflect on whether that is the job that they want to do for the rest of their lives," said Mr Lim.

At 32, he added, many would have started a family and face challenges when their priorities change and they seek things such as stability.

Mr Martin Gabriel, founder of human resources consultancy firm HRmatters21, said the definition of success has evolved.

"For the older generation, it was bread-and-butter issues of security and stability. But for the new generation, it is about lifestyle and projecting an image of success," he said.

As a result, young people may place undue pressure or expectations on themselves.

Said Mr Lim: "What took our parents 15 years to achieve, young professionals want to achieve in a matter of two years. They expect instant gratification, often giving up on work that shows no tangible results in the short term."

Mr Aw disagrees.

"It is not that we are looking for the perfect job or we don't take work seriously. It is because we take work too seriously that we need to look for something bigger than ourselves, something that we feel connected to," he said.

While she is not religious, said Ms Lim, she is seeking for what she was put on earth to do.

Mr Sam Neo, 31, conceded that the pursuit of meaning, purpose or fulfilment in one's career may be a luxury that only the younger generation can afford.

He faced his quarter-life crisis before he turned 30, after six years as an HR professional at Keppel Corporation and Changi Airport Group.

"I started questioning if I am maximising my potential and making a real difference," said Mr Neo.

When he noticed that millennials are more likely to be a flight risk, forcing employers to incur more cost to rehire and retrain talent, he set up his own HR consultancy last year, partly to help bridge the gap in needs and expectations between millennials and their employers.

"Is it necessarily a bad thing to have a quarter-life crisis? I don't think so, especially if young people want to make a difference to society instead of simply working for the money," said Mr Neo.

"What they need is more career guidance and mentors."