AS MANY as eight out of 10 Singaporeans believe the standard of living in Singapore will keep rising, according to a Straits Times survey. Most also see their children's chances of succeeding in life as better than theirs.

But at the same time, eight out of 10 worry the income gap will slow social mobility while six out of 10 think the Government is not doing enough to help people move up the socio-economic ladder.

This picture of cautious optimism emerged from a survey commissioned by The Straits Times, on whether people still believe in the Singapore dream of advancement through meritocracy amid public concerns about a growing income gap.

The findings of the phone survey done in May, of 400 citizens aged 21 and older, took observers by surprise yesterday.

National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Tan Ern Ser said the high levels of confidence were 'quite remarkable' given unhappiness in the last few years over the influx of immigrants and the rising cost of living.

But amid the confidence was an awareness that with rising standards comes rising competition.

While 80 per cent say that their children's standard of living will be higher than theirs, this drops to 60 per cent when asked if their children's opportunities for success will be better than theirs.

This is because success is defined at a higher and higher bar in a fast-paced society, explained NUS sociologist Irene Ng.

Asked about their own economic prospects, people were more sombre: About four in 10 said their economic circumstances 10 years from now would be better or much better. The same proportion said it would be worse and much worse.

This, said Professor Tan, shows current economic worries and fluctuations have not eroded belief in Singapore as a 'viable entity' to raise their children.

Most surprising to the experts, however, was the reaction to the income gap, and the strong consensus that a big income gap will slow social mobility.

NUS' Dr Ng noted that in countries like Britain, only a minority are in favour of income redistribution to help the poor while in Singapore, most think the Government is not doing enough.

Said Mr Yeoh Lam Keong, vice-president of the Economic Society: 'People are correctly perceiving the impact of a wide income gap. And they are sending a clear message that they are uncomfortable with it.'