Singapore is a densely populated country with a diverse cultural society and a population of approximately 5.64 million. The society is made up of three main ethnic groups: Chinese (74%), Malays (13%), and Indians (9%). It is also one of the world’s most religiously diverse societies, with ten different religions co-existing.
The problem of labor shortages in Singapore is becoming increasingly severe, as the nation faces the growing threats of an aging population and a declining birth rate. The current total fertility rate stands at 1.1 children per woman, which is one of the lowest in the world, only higher than South Korea in Asia. However, the population size is expected to continue growing for several decades before it stagnates.
This is because a significant part of population growth now and in the future comes from immigration. In recent years, as global market competition has intensified and markets have become saturated, many entrepreneurs have chosen to expand their businesses in Southeast Asia. As the most developed country in Southeast Asia, and with a highly conducive business environment, Singapore ranks second only to New Zealand among 190 economies, according to the World Bank’s business environment report. This has successfully made it an important financial and commercial center in Asia and the world, and the regional headquarters location for many global companies.
This is why in recent years (according to 2021 statistics), non-citizen population accounts for a third of the total population, with 1.57 million out of 5.64 million people being non-citizens. If permanent residents, students, and other work permit holders are taken into account, this ratio would increase to about 40%. Due to its economic status, excellent education system, and the aforementioned conducive business environment, the country’s labor force participation rate is as high as 69%, far higher than the OECD average of 60%, and second only to New Zealand (70%).
In the long run, the ethnic composition of the population will slightly change, with Malays and Indians having a higher birth rate, resulting in their gradually increasing proportion in the population. This might change the current situation where the Chinese constitute a larger proportion, potentially leading to risks of heightened racial tensions. However, high income levels and well-managed economy may reduce competition for resources among ethnic groups. The government handles racial and religious differences by promoting the concept of multi-racial and multi-religious citizenship, resulting in rare occurrences of incidents based on social, racial, or religious differences.
Residents are distributed across 55 planning areas. There are five planning areas each having more than 200,000 residents, namely Bedok, Tampines, Jurong West, Sengkang, and Woodlands. Bedok is the area with the most residents, totaling 278,270. The majority of the national population lives in planned towns (new towns), managed by the Housing Development Board (HDB). As of 2022, there are 24 planned towns nationwide. Usually, a plan accommodates between 100,000 to 250,000 residents, made up of several communities, each with approximately 20,000 to 30,000 residents.
Singapore’s ethnic diversity is the result of immigration policies during the British colonial period. As an important entrepôt of the British Empire, it attracted various immigrants, particularly from other significant Asian markets at the time, such as China and India. Today, the majority of the population is made up of Chinese (74.3%), Malays (13.5%), Indians (9%), and others of Eurasian descent.
The official languages still correlate with its population composition, with four languages commonly seen nationwide: English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. Malay is the national language of Singapore and the mother tongue of the Malay ethnic group in Singapore. Even though most Singaporeans do not speak Malay, it is used for the Singaporean national anthem and is also used to reference Singapore’s honor system and military exercise commands. However, English is the main language used by Singaporeans. Apart from mother tongue lessons, it is the primary language of instruction for all subjects in Singapore schools and is the common language for administrative management. A significant proportion of the Chinese population migrated from the Fujian and Guangdong regions in China, with the majority being Hokkien, so a considerable proportion of Singaporean Chinese speak Hokkien.
As Singapore grapples with a falling fertility rate and an aging population, public concern is growing over the potential for foreign workers to displace locals in the job market. To address these concerns, the government has steadily raised the monthly salary threshold for employment passes – from S$3,600 (US$2,650) in early 2020 to S$5,000 as of September 2022.
However, the authorities have also introduced a flexible work pass to draw top-tier talent, particularly in the tech sector. This pass has a minimum salary threshold of S$30,000, or it requires the holder to have certain exceptional achievements. Moreover, a more flexible foreign talent framework has been established, which grants businesses deemed strategically important or expanding increased quotas for hiring mid-skilled S-Pass holders. This should help to mitigate labor shortages to some extent.
Still, these measures do not signal a significant relaxation of the foreign labor policy. The high costs and uncertainties associated with these changes may impede multinational companies’ plans to hire foreign nationals for specific high-skilled roles. We believe in five years time, the administration will continue to tighten foreign hiring requirements by increasing qualifying salaries and imposing additional restrictions to placate the electorate. These factors, coupled with low fertility rates and demographic aging (which are reducing the domestic talent pool), are expected to make sourcing qualified employees at a reasonable cost increasingly challenging in the medium to long term, thereby increasing operational costs for businesses.
Residents of Singapore are distributed across 55 planning areas. Among these, Bedok is the most populated, with 278,270 residents. Most of the national population lives in planned towns (new towns), managed by the Housing Development Board (HDB). As of 2022, there are 24 planned towns across the country. Typically, a planning area houses over 250,000 residents, with areas like Bedok, Tampines, Jurong West, and Sengkang accommodating between 100,000 to 250,000 residents. Each of these areas comprises several communities, each with approximately 20,000 to 30,000 residents.
In 2022, areas like Outram, Ang Mo Kio, Bukit Merah, Geylang, and Kallang were among the planning areas where the proportion of residents aged 65 and above was higher than in other areas. At least one-fifth of the residents in these areas are 65 years old or above. In contrast, areas with newer estates have a higher proportion of children aged five and below than older areas. Punggol, in 2022, was one of the areas with the highest proportion of children under the age of five, constituting 7.5% of the resident population in the planning area.
By 2022, an estimated 3.13 million residents (about four-fifths of the population) were living in government housing. There are four planning areas where over 90% of the residents live in government housing. Outram had the highest proportion of residents living in government housing, followed by Woodlands.
In 2022, compared to the total resident population (19.4%), a higher proportion of senior citizens aged 65 and above (27.4%) lived in smaller housing units of 80 square meters or less. In terms of planning areas, in Outram, Queenstown, Geylang, and Kallang, at least 50% of the residents aged 65 and above lived in housing units with a floor area of 80 square meters or less.