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Singapore in Numbers - Religion

Ask any Singaporean on the street what the most popular pastime for Singaporeans is?  Complaining is probably within the top 3 of most Singaporeans’ lists.  If you follow social or even mainstream media today, there is no shortage of things to complain about

  • The high cost of living

  • The high prices of motor vehicles and housing

  • Job and Income security

  • Low fertility rates

  • The hot and humid weather

  • Having too many foreigners on the island

  • Bad traffic

The fact that people complain about it online or that the news reports it doesn’t make it true; and if it was true, it would be helpful to quantify how bad the issues really are.  In a world where people are increasingly uninformed or misinformed, it is crucial for citizens to validate these claims for themselves to avoid getting caught up in the ground swell of bad facts.  It is even more important for policy makers to get their facts straight before rolling policies to address an imaginary or misunderstood issue. 

FYT Consulting has been publishing our research series on Singapore to help Singaporeans and policy makers to better understand the many facets of Singapore through data.  And through it all, we may all learn something new about Singapore together.  In this episode, we will examine a sensitive topic with data – Religion in Singapore.

Diversity in Singapore – Multi-Racial, Multi-Cultural and Multi-religion

Singapore is better known for its economic success and prowess, boasting a GDP per capita among the top 10-15 in the world.  Each country’s economic growth story is different, what makes Singapore’s growth story more interesting is that managed to accomplish economic growth despite the multifaceted diversity in terms of races, cultures, and religions. 

Singapore gained independence in 1965 with the indigenous Malay population and a mix of immigrants hailing largely from the region (India, China).  For practicality Singapore classifies the population into four groups: namely Chinese, Malay, Indian and others in order of size of the population. Race and religion are different and potentially independent constructs.  How has the population landscape changed since then? 

Religions in Singapore

With reference to the Singapore population census for 2020, there are 8 main religions and the remaining minor religions classified as others make up only 0.28% of the population.  Did you know:

  • 31% are Buddhist, they form the largest religious group in Singapore.

  • Those who identify as having no religion make up the next largest group at 20%.

  • Islam makes up the next largest group at 15%.

  • Christians (Catholics and other Christians) make up about 18%l where Catholics make up 7%. 

  • But there is also significant diversity in religious beliefs across different demographic dimensions.

Religions by Age

Data suggests that the popularity of each religion varies with age; which provides some insight to the generational prevalence of each religion over time.  For example, data suggests that:

  • Buddhism and Taoism appear to be less popular with the younger generation

  • Islam, on the other hand, appears to be more prevalent among the younger generation, with higher percentages as age decreases.

  • There appears to be a higher incidence Hinduism among those aged 35-55, as opposed those who were younger and older. 

  • The percentage of Catholics and other Christians appear to be relatively consistent across age groups.

  • The fastest growing group appears to be those with no religion; with sizable growth in numbers and proportion among the younger groups.

Religions by Race

Race and religion are very different and independent constructs…for most races

  • 98.8% of Malays believe in Islam; with a very small minority believing in other religions.

  • Significant diversity in religions among both the Chinese and Indians.

  • Buddhism is the majority religion among the Chinese (45%) and one of the races with the largest proportion and numbers with no religion (29%).

  • Hinduism (57%) is the majority religion among the Indians, followed by Islam (23%)

  • Given the racial diversity among those classified as “other”, it is no surprise that they show the largest diversity in religions.  Catholics and Buddhists make up most of the race classification (51%). 

Religion by Dwelling

Up till this point, we have sought to understand the kinds of people that belong to each religion, how old they are and the various races.  In this and the subsequent section, we will explore if there are differences in how people in different religions live, specifically the types of dwelling and their educational qualifications.

In the case of dwelling type, it is important to understand the housing system in Singapore.  Roughly 80% of Singapore residents live in public housing, typically high-rise housing ranging from one to five room units.  For those who can afford it, they can pay a premium to purchase high rise private condominium or apartment units or landed property units. 

There is statistical evidence to suggest that religion influence the types of dwelling that residents live in; by extension this might be an indicator of the levels of wealth within each religious group.

  • The Christians (Catholics and Other Christians), those with No religion and Other Religions appear to have the markedly higher proportion living in private housing, between 30-35% compared to the national average of 20.8%.

  • The proportion of Hindus and Sikhs living in private housing appear to be similar to the national average (22-24%). 

  • A smaller proportion of Taoists and Buddhists stay in private properties, between 14-16%; taking note also that Buddhists form the largest religious group in Singapore.

  • Only 4% of residents who believe in Islam are staying in private properties. 

Using private property as a proxy for wealth, it suggests that Christians, No Religion and Other Religion residents may have more wealth and/or are more willing to purchase private property than the Singapore national average.  Sikhs and Hindus appear to have a wealth and housing distribution similar to the national average.  However, the Buddhists, Taoists and Islamists appear to be in the lower wealth spectrum.  That said, it should be noted that despite not living in private property, they all have a roof over their heads in the form of public housing, which still is a lot better than many developed nations. 

The more important takeaway here is that the perceptions of wealth differences and the visible evidence of dwelling types by religion could potentially be a fault line between races and/or religions especially among those who are significantly higher and/or lower than the national average.

Religion by Educational Attainment

Singapore is a highly competitive society; we compete for jobs, housing, even parking spaces. Education is one facet where competition is fiercest; from the schoolyard to the workplace.  Singaporeans strongly believe that education holds the key to social mobility, high salaries, good housing and a good life.  Many parents invest heavily to ensure that their children have the best opportunities to obtain a university degree.  About 32% of the population aged above 15 have university degree qualifications; but this spans across all ages.  But the percentage of university graduates have progressively increased over the years as Singapore became more wealth.  About 57% of those aged 30-34 have university degrees. But how do these figures compare across religions?

  • Christians, Hindus and those with No religions have the highest proportion with University degrees (44-50%). 

  • The proportion of Sikhs and those with Other Religions with university degrees are comparable to the national average (35-37%).

  • The proportion of Buddhists, Taoists and Islamists with university degrees are significantly lower than the national average (12-25%)

It should be noted that the religions with a higher proportion with higher education attainment are the same ones living in more expensive properties and by extension likely to have more wealth.  Which further reinforces religion and wealth as potential fault lines in Singapore society.  While there will always be some level of income inequality for various reasons, this bears monitoring as some unsavory players could stoke the flames along these fault lines to cause fractures in Singapore diverse society.

Takeaways

Given the limited detail in the data, we are unable to draw any reliable conclusions from the observations in this article.  The correlations and observations associated with religion may be coincidental or confounded by other factors like race, income, dwelling and other factors.

However, even with the limitations in the data analysis, it was to provide directional indications, prompted new questions and key areas to watch out for across the religious landscape in Singapore.  While many organizations are focused on processing and mining internal data for insights, many are overlooking the value of the insights that are already available in the public domain.  This article hopes to demonstrate the surprising level of detail and insights that could be gleaned from public data.

In future articles, we will explore other facets of the Singapore Population.  If you are interested to interact with the data for yourself click here.  If you are interested to learn how to build similar interactive dashboard for yourself, or are keen to build practical data skills, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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Guest
May 19

Would be interesting to see the demographic forecast for the next 20-50 years with Islam growing rapidly due to higher birth rate (assumption based on other counties). Will it become majority or even more than 50% of the population in the future?

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