What's changing in the texture of Indonesian society?

Debnath Guharoy, Debnath.Guharoy@roymorgan.com

How time flies. Indonesia will soon be celebrating a decade of democracy. Three out of four people from around the country continue to believe that "democracy is working".

With democracy came freedom of expression and freedom of the individual, and media and political freedoms. The common assumption is that such freedoms should lead to a more liberal society. The trends, in fact, indicate otherwise. Conservative values aren't making way for more liberal views. In fact, quite the opposite is taking place.

These observations are based on Roy Morgan Single Source, Indonesia's largest syndicated survey now expanding to include over 27,000 respondents annually, projected to reflect 90 percent of the population over the age of 14.

Roy Morgan Values Segments, produced in conjunction with Colin Benjamin of The Horizons Network, is a socio-economic "map" of society at large. It also tracks attitudinal changes -- the psychological progress of Indonesia, so to speak.

Of interest not only to marketers, it is able to quantify attitudinal changes over time. Deeper analysis will reveal differences of opinion between, say, men and women, young and old, urban and rural, or a combination of such facets.


Conventional Family, at 33 percent of society, is a segment that comprises young parents of young children. In a young country like Indonesia, this is the single largest grouping of people above the age of 14.

The self-focussed "Look At Me" segment, comprising the large teenage population, comes next, at 22 percent. There have been no noticeable changes in attitudes in these two major groups over the last three years. But the changes in the next two segments are indeed noteworthy.

As the name denotes, "Real Conservatism" represents a group of people who share conservative values, influenced in large measure by their upbringing, as well as their spiritual beliefs. This group is growing steadily, from 9 percent of society three years ago to 13 percent today.

The growth rate is higher in both urban and rural area, but even higher in rural Indonesia. In terms of percentages, younger women of 14-49 remain steady, growing in numbers as the population grows, and regardless of the joys of the greater individual freedom that democracy offers.

Why are men and women heading in different directions, attitudinally? Could it be that these new freedoms have been abused by the males, thus hurting the females in Indonesian society?

I think that this may be the case. If I may move away from facts and figures into the realm of opinion, I fear it is simply a case of "men behaving badly". On the street and in the kampung, on the buses and the trains, in the pasar and the shopping mall, are women today being treated with as much deference and respect as they were in yesteryear?

I don't think so. The jilbab or headscarf is a visible symbol of faith, capable of creating both distance and respect, especially from the opposite sex.

From a completely different angle, add the everyday pictures of misery in Iraq and Palestine, the heartland of Islam. The individual inability to actively soothe the pain of co-religionists can be compensated for in part by a simple expression of solidarity, a silent but visible sign of protest.

One or both of these very different stimuli are leading growing numbers of women to find some comfort in their faith. I can think of no better explanation for Real Conservatism growing as visibly and as quickly as it is.

The fact that older women in this segment are also growing in both percentage and numbers is the obvious explanation for that next sizeable segment, Traditional Family Life, declining to the point where a crossover is imminent. Comprising older parents and empty nesters, steady growth in conservative values will further diminish this segment.

The "Visible Achievement" segment is next in size, comprising those 8 percent of the most financially comfortable in Indonesia. They are made up of the most successful people in business and the professions, but they too are conservative in comparison to their financial equals but liberal-thinking counterparts, "Socially Aware".

The latter group accounts for barely 1 percent at the top-end of Indonesian society. This is not a segment that's growing.

At the opposite end are the sizeable group of young people struggling to make a living, make ends meet, looking for a "Fairer Deal" than they are getting out of life today. They represent the underprivileged of Indonesia.

Their aged counterparts are in the small group "Basic Needs", living out their twilight years alone. This is a small group in a culture where very few aged people live alone, by contrast with neighboring Australia.

As the middle class continues to grow, the small group "Something Better" (2 percent), comprising professionals in their late 30s and 40s looking for their next promotion, will hopefully become a more influential voice in the future. Of similar promise is "Young Optimism" (2 percent), made up of young graduates and first-jobbers looking at life through rose-tinted glasses.

For the marketing fraternity and business at large, watching the fabric of Indonesia change will always be an essential key for continued success in the marketplace. Acting quickly on these nuances will produce the desired results.

The contributor is an advertising professional turned researcher and consultant, based in Melbourne. He has lived and worked across the Asia Pacific region, including Indonesia. He remains a regular visitor.
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