Sustainable Population Strategy for Singapore

Singapore is a Southeast Asian city-state located at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula and comprises 63 islands with a population of about five million persons. Singapore has a well-developed market-based economy and is widely recognized as a free, innovative, competitive and business-friendly country. Singapore is a large exporter and importer and has the world’s highest ratio of trade-to-GDP. It has AAA credit ratings from the major credit rating agencies and has about ten thousand multinational corporations from the USA, Europe, Japan, China and India operating in the country. It is the world’s fourth leading financial center and its port is among the five busiest ports in the world. Singaporeans are well-educated and Singapore has the world’s highest percentage of millionaires, with one out of every six households having at least one million US dollars in disposable wealth. Among key demographic indicators, median age is 33; life expectancy at birth is 81 (males) and 86 (females); population growth rate is 2%; birth rate is 7.7 per thousand; death rate is 3.4 per thousand; total fertility rate is 0.78. The age distribution of the population is 14% under age 15, 18% age 15-24, 50% age 25-54, 10% age 55-64, and 8% age 65 and over.

The Singapore Government recently published a report A Sustainable Population for a Dynamic Singapore. This report noted that Singapore will experience an unprecedented age shift between now and 2030 when more than a quarter of the current citizen population will enter the “silver” years and that from 2020 onwards, the number of working-age citizens will decline, as retiring older Singaporeans will outnumber younger ones entering the workforce. With its current low birth rate, the citizen population will age rapidly and start declining 2013from 2025 unless Singapore takes in sufficient new immigrants. The report sets out the key considerations and a roadmap for policies to address these demographic challenges, namely, to maintain a strong Singaporean core in the population; to regulate how many new Singapore citizens and permanent residents are accepted; to create new jobs and opportunities, and build a high quality living environment, while strengthening Singapore’s national identity as a society.

The strategy for a sustainable population for a dynamic Singapore rests on three pillars. First, Singaporeans form the core of the society and the heart of the nation, with strong families through which values and a sense of belonging are passed from generation to generation. Singaporeans share certain key values and aspirations, including meritocracy, a fair and just society, and respect for other persons’ culture within a society where all can interact and bond. Second, the population and workforce must support a dynamic economy that can steadily create good jobs and opportunities to meet Singaporeans’ hopes and aspirations. Singapore must continue to develop and upgrade to remain a leader in the network of global cities and a vibrant place as a productive work environment. A dynamic economy will provide more resources and room to pursue inclusive growth strategies to benefit all segments of society. Third, Singapore must continue to be a dynamic, well-managed, well-planned, and well-developed city that provides a good place to live for its population.

To help Singaporeans marry and have families, a Marriage and Parenthood program was introduced in 2001 and enhanced in 2004 and 2008. Further enhancements will assist young families with housing, child care, and other services. Singapore will continue to welcome immigrants; the intake of younger immigrants will add to the cohorts of younger Singaporeans and balance the ageing of the citizen population. This policy will be reviewed from time to time depending on the quality of applicants, birth rates and changing needs. New citizens will be encouraged to integrate into Singapore society and culture. With a controlled immigration rate the citizen population and resident population are projected to meet certain target levels, depending on birth rates, life expectancy and other factors. Businesses will need a workforce with a full range of skills and experience for jobs in value-added emerging sectors serving regional and international markets. A significant number of foreign workers is needed to complement the core Singaporean workforce, but a careful balance is required so as not to be overwhelmed by more foreign workers than can be absorbed or that would expand the total population beyond what the nation is able to accommodate. The roadmap in the report will put Singapore on a planned trajectory to meet the present and future needs of the nation and its population. The population issues are complex and multi-faceted, and have far-reaching effects on current and future generations. The strategy is intended to seek a judicious balance in meeting the challenges, by mitigating the risks of a steadily graying society, but not weakening the national identity and culture through too great an influx of immigrants.