People born in the Year of the Dragon are often said to be smart, ambitious, passionate, and above all else, auspicious to their family. Believing in the blessings that Dragon babies bring to the family, Asian countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, China, and Malaysia have experienced spikes in birth rates during Dragon years, despite experiencing a decreasing birth rate trend . Malaysia, in particular, has consistently seen a spike in live births during the years of the Dragon, drawing economic and educational concerns about upcoming generations, particularly those stepping into higher education this year.
To understand the underlying impact of the Dragon babies and their unique disposition in Malaysia, INTI International University & Colleges (INTI) commissioned a first-ever survey of more than 315 respondents, comprising of Dragons (aged 18 and 30 years old this year) and non-Dragon individuals, through a series of in-depth interviews and quantitative surveys. The survey sought to understand what defines Dragon babies and whether they are different from other zodiac individuals – setting the stage for what higher education institutions and organizations should know in preparing for the influx of a unique group of students and future professionals.
Commenting on the survey, Tan Lin Nah, Chief Operating Officer of INTI said, “The large Dragon baby cohort signals an increase in students (born in 2000) who are expected to enrol for university placements this year. As in primary and secondary schools, this may potentially lead to an increase in the number of students per classroom, which may potentially affect the quality of education students receive individually. Subsequently, this will, in the next two to four years, also impact them when it comes to job employment opportunities. These concerns led to this survey as INTI seeks to understand the mind-sets and challenges of these individuals, and to tailor our approach to provide students with a holistic education that prepares them for the future, and to stand out from among their peers.”
To further deliberate the survey findings and understand Dragon babies in Malaysia, INTI organised two panel sessions with Lin Nah and invited guest speakers, including: Charis Wong, Director, KIN & KiDS Marriage, Family and Child Therapy Center; Nancy Yeoh, Consultant, Joey Yap Consulting Group; Nur Jeevan Guna Segar, Managing Director and Founder of Entity Digital Sdn Bhd; Danielle Chai, Advance 2 Foundation in Dance from the Royal Academy of Dance; Amanda Siew Yen Kai, American Degree Transfer Programme from INTI International College Subang; and Denise Solosa, a full time mother (Danielle’s).
Addressing what makes Dragon babies unique, the panellists explored the characteristics commonly attributed to Dragons, their own personal experiences, and whether Dragon babies are a product of cultural beliefs that led to a self-fulfilling reality. Past studies referred to during the discussion suggest that Dragon babies do better in education , leveraging on their competitive drive and building on a heightened level of commitment from parents to ensure their Dragon children succeed in life , to which the panellists shared mixed opinions.
Jeevan, who gave up full-time employment in pursuit of his dream to start his own digital content company said, “Raised in a mixed-heritage family and having lived in China for a part of my life, I grew up knowing full well the perceptions towards Dragon babies and the qualities that are tagged to us. While there are numerous factors that influenced who I am today, being driven to succeed and determined in reaching my goals are qualities I do share with other Dragons. We are always looking forward to what’s next and often take the lead, especially when wanting to do things our own way.”
The study showed that Dragon babies are very driven to advance their status in life, either to achieve financial security and material possessions (ranked by 95% of 30-year-old respondents and 41% of 18-year-old respondents), for career advancement (ranked by 41% of 30-year-old respondents, which was significantly higher than non-Dragons where only 25% ranked this as their goal) and to pursue further studies (ranked by 45% of the 18-year-old respondents).
A familiar face in the local psychology industry, Founder and Director of KIN & KiDS Marriage, Family and Child Therapy Centre, Charis Wong said, “The cultural beliefs surrounding the uniqueness of Dragon babies may have had an impact on the life of these individuals, whether consciously or subconsciously. There are some studies that reported that Dragon babies stand out in core areas of academic and career achievements, amplified by their effort, hard work and determination to succeed in life. Whether or not this is attributed to nature, i.e. ingrained traits or nurture, i.e. a self-fulfilling prophecy, remains an interesting debate.”
The study also found that almost half of the 18-year-old and 30-year-old respondents’ groups surveyed identified being hard working as the key contributor to their success. Rather than any in-born advantages, this seemed to suggest that even if Dragon babies believe that they were “born to succeed”, they realized that being hardworking is still a key determinant to success in life and appear willing to put in the effort in order to achieve their goals.
Surprisingly, given the cultural perception and expectations on Dragon babies to succeed, non- Dragon respondents experienced higher familial expectations than their Dragon counterparts in this study, particularly in having good career achievements (29% from non-Dragons versus 18% from Dragons), although Dragons are ranked with higher expectations to be financially secure (10% for Dragons versus 5% from non-Dragons).
Nancy Yeoh, a consultant from the Joey Yap Consulting Group shared “The Dragon zodiac has always been an auspicious sign to individuals and families alike, and the year 2018 presents the Dragon babies with a very auspicious star called the Month Emptiness, which encourages Dragons to have bigger aspirations, and to be very optimistic in handling their affairs and projects. This prediction coincides with the findings of the survey which reveals that Dragon babies are ambitious, desiring for greater success in life, and that this year marks a good start for all Dragon babies to pursue their dreams and make them a reality.”
Denise Solosa, a mother of three, added “While I come from a mixed heritage, the Chinese zodiac has had its impact in my life, including our decision to have our first child in the year of the Dragon. While all children have their strengths and capabilities, Dragons demonstrate a sense of focus and direction even from a young age, and know early in life what they want. As they enter higher education, educators play a crucial role in preparing them to achieve these goals – to keep challenging them as they always want to move forward, and to give them opportunities to take the lead, through which they can hone their competencies for their next steps in life.”
Despite the large Dragon cohorts, 64% of the 18-year-old respondents were confident in their ability to secure jobs after graduating, contrary to INTI’s 2015 survey on Gen Z which revealed that 56% of Gen Zs’ are concerned about not getting jobs after graduating. There were still concerns raised by Dragons in entering the workplace however, including the inability to get along with colleagues (14%), having a job that may not meet their expectations (13%) and low salaries (8%).
The survey also revealed that all three respondent groups ranked communication, problem solving and teamwork as the three most important skills to thrive in the workplace. However, all three groups ranked digital skills as one of the least important skills, contrary to INTI’s 2016 survey on the dichotomy between employers and graduates, which found that digital literacy is regarded by employers (30%) as the most essential skillset for today’s workplace.
To manage this expectation gap, Lin Nah explains, “With continuous changes in the job landscape and in the educational approach with the next generation of students, institutions of higher learning must reinvent their education offerings to meet the widening scope of expectations. To ensure that we prepare our graduates to meet these expectations, INTI collaborates with industry partners in providing practical learning based on market needs. Integrated modules from IBM’s Innovation Centre for Education and Alibaba’s Global Ecommerce Talents programme enhance digital literacy and help students to gain expertise in analytics, cloud computing, and e-commerce – skillsets that are essential in today’s work place.”
Addressing the findings that Dragons preferred multinational companies, while non-Dragons sought large local setups, Lin Nah explains, “We work with over 450 employers from local start-ups to global leaders. Throughout our students’ time with us, we create opportunities for them to meet and learn from these employers, including leadership talks, on-campus career development programmes, employer projects, internships, and networking opportunities with senior business leaders. These not only provide the transferable soft skills needed for graduates to excel in any industry, but opens up career opportunities for all students, both in Malaysia and globally, even before they graduate.”
As an institution committed to outstanding graduate outcomes, INTI recognises the need to understand the nuances of younger generations and to reinvent its educational approach to equip young professionals with the skills needed to thrive in the jobs of tomorrow. As the spike in Dragon birth rates signals stronger competition for academic achievements and job placements, this survey serves as first steps into what relevant parties could do to adapt and empower the next generation workforce.