Singapore has a median household income more than 3 times than of Malaysia[Link]. Because Malaysia has a large part of its population living in rural areas involved in farming pulling down the per capita GDP, the median income difference between Singapore and Malaysia for people living in cities is probably smaller. If you take into account the cost of living, the difference in quality of life may not be so big.
Travelling across Malaysia, makes a person realise how much the cost of living has crept up in Singapore over the years. Many years ago, when you go to Malaysia, you find things are slightly cheaper than Singapore.....but now the price difference is really big. Here are some random snapshots to illustrate:
RM$4(S$1.66) for chicken claypot rice. This picture was taken not at some roadside stall but at the air conditioned food court of a mall called Mahkota Parade which is very similar to Parkway Parade in Singapore.
There is a reason why Singaporeans love to eat Aunt Annie's pretzel in Malaysia. The price is less than half of what it costs in Singapore:
There is a long list of things you can get for lower prices in Malaysia from your spectacles to shoes to medical care.
When I was in Malacca, I found out that one of my distant Malaysian relative got sick and was staying in a private hospital called Mahkota Medical Centre. It was pure coincidence that my hotel was located across the road from that hospital. I went to visit my relative at the hospital - I won't go into the details of his illness but he is seriously ill and bedridden. I chatted with him and he was quite upset about the cost of medical care at the hospital. Mahkota Medical Centre is owned by a Singapore-based company known as Health Management International (HMI). He was upset because the ward charges has gone up from RM$50 when his father was ward 5 years ago to RM$70 per day. RM$70 gets you something like our B class wards(?), 4 beds per room + air-condition. This Malaysian hospital is one of those where you're allowed to use your Medisave [Link]. When I spoke to the nurse there, she told me an increasing number of Singaporeans are seeking at Mahkota because the cost of medical care in Singapore has spiralled beyond the reach of uinsured and uninsurable Singaporeans. The problem with medical tourism is it strains the country's resources and imports inflation. The cost difference for medical treatment between developed countries like Singapore, US, Germany and Malaysia is huge. If they allow their private hospitals to expand and take foreign patients, they will see the same problem of cost spirals and strained capacity in public hospitals as Singapore. Minister Khaw exported some of our problems by allowing the use of Medisave for Malaysian hospitals as Singapore's public hospital experience bed shortages and long waiting times[Link]. My sick relative was told by his doctor to seek part of his treatment at a Malaysian public hospital where they can treat him for much lower cost and same effectiveness as Mahkota.
I took a taxi from Malacca to my next destination in Malaysia. The friendly taxi driver had many stories to tell. He told me that he has 12 kids and 2 grandchildren - he is 49 years old and got married at 19. His sister is married to a Singapore policeman. He told me that he had a shock when he visited his sister's HDB flat a few years ago - he couldn't believe that a tiny 4-room govt flat can cost S$250k....I didn't dare to tell him what it costs today. He told me that retirees and pensioners from various countries have found their way to Malacca where a semi-detached house costs about RM$330K.
2 decades ago, when you make a general statement that the life in Singapore is better than in Malaysia, most people would believe it and agree with you. Today the difference in the quality of life is not so clear. There are still many things that Singapore does better than Malaysia. We have low crime rates (hmm...gangs?), an outstanding education system and outstanding opportunities for a small number highly talented individuals. You can make millions of you climb all the way up to be a minister or CEO of a GLC. However, most Singaporeans are not highly talented - ordinary Singaporeans have ordinary talents....and by the law of nature about half our population have below average talent & IQ. The rising cost of living especially the cost of public housing means that the struggle for ordinary Singapore to stay afloat becomes tougher with each passing year. For the elderly and low income Singaporeans, the pain of poverty becomes harder to bear as the cost of living spirals up. Many ordinary Singaporeans are beginning to ask...what is the key selling point of our system? One that makes them struggle their whole life without a good retirement in Singapore to look forward to.