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Singapore in Numbers - Population

Singapore Population by Race, Education and Age (Singstat)

In our previous segment, we had explored insights within the labour force; in this segment, we will explore a broader segment – the Singapore population itself.

The population at a glance

As at 2016, Singapore population stands at 5.6 million; of which, 29.8% are non-residents.

  • Total population grew by almost 80% in a span of 25 years (1991 – 2016)

  • The proportion of non-residents grew from 10.9% to 29.8% over the same period; which reflect similar trends in the labour force

The evolving resident population

As at 2016, the resident population stands at 3.93 million (includes both citizens as well as permanent residents); and has grown by roughly 40% over the last 25 years or roughly half as fast as the non-resident population. Over the same 25-year period, the Singapore resident population went through some significant changes; most notable changes were in education and demographics.

  • The racial make-up of the resident population has remained relatively consistent even as the resident population grew

  • Over the last 25 years, the resident population grew increasingly educated

  • Those with secondary or below secondary education attainment made up 85% of the population in 1991; by 2016, it fell to 47%.

  • The most pronounced changes were among those with university qualifications or above; which grew from less than 5% to over 29% in the last 25 years

  • It has been well established that Singapore has a fast ageing population

  • The population aged 65 or above grew from 6% to 12% over 25 years; while those aged below 20 fell from 30 – 21% over the same period

  • …and this trend is set to continue for the foreseeable future

Clearly there are many more facets of Singapore’s population that could be explored; but in this segment, we will focus on the education profile of the Singapore’s population.

Residents as products of the educational policies of their time

Singapore resident population by education and age (Singstat)

The education system is an integral part of Singapore’s economic growth. It was responsible for producing a workforce with the requisite skills to support the economic needs of the time; and has evolved repeatedly as Singapore’s economy matured.

  • In the early years of independence, the focus was to build a skilled workforce to support the industrialization programmes

  • In 1980s, the focus shifted towards building quality talent to capitalize on industries further up in the value chain

  • In the late 1990s, the focus shifted towards building skills in technology and creativity; and it continues to evolve today.

It takes decades of schooling before residents are ready for the workforce; and residents remain productive for decades more after graduating. So, it should not be surprising to see graduates of the Singapore education from different eras in the same workforce; each cohort a product of the education policies at that time when they were in the education system.

Data shows that each cohort from the Singapore education system has been increasingly educated; but that’s not the whole story.

Residents aged 55 and above were born before Singapore’s independence and some were outcomes from the early education policies. Most of this group had secondary school or below education; but this was also a time where a university degree may not have been necessary to make a decent living.

Residents who were born after Singapore’s independence (aged 52 and below) became increasingly educated. And it appeared to have reached some stability for those aged 39 or younger; where 52-55% have university degrees or higher.

Key considerations

In Singapore’s job market today, more and more jobs, particularly the lucrative ones, require university qualifications or higher; now factor in the more recent sectoral shift towards the digital economy

  • How will older residents who do not have university degrees adapt to the new economy, compete for jobs, make a living, support their families?

  • Was not having a degree or not upgrading themselves their own fault or a product of policies of their time? At their age will upgrading do any good in the eyes of employers?

  • The digital economy did not exist till the 1990s, how will residents with little personal and educational exposure cope with the sectoral shift?

50% of the more recent graduates from the Singapore education system will have university degrees or higher; with higher salary expectations and preference not to be doing some types of work

  • Is there a risk of oversupply of graduates like we have seen in other countries (e.g. Japan, South Korea, Spain, France)?

  • Could graduate unemployment lead to other social issues for Singapore?

Food for thought as Singapore maps its growth in the next few decades.

Note - All charts based on data from the Department of Statistics of Singapore

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