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Singapore’s population growth slowest in 9 years

SINGAPORE — The total population here grew over last year at its slowest pace since 2004, partly due to tightened foreign manpower policies and weaker economic conditions. A bright spot was the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) inching up to a five-year high, thanks to the “Dragon Year effect”.

SINGAPORE — The total population here grew over last year at its slowest pace since 2004, partly due to tightened foreign manpower policies and weaker economic conditions. A bright spot was the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) inching up to a five-year high, thanks to the “Dragon Year effect”.

As at end-June, Singapore’s total population stood at 5.4 million — a rise of 1.6 per cent over last year.

In comparison, the total population grew by 2.5 per cent between last year and 2011.

The citizen population grew by 0.9 per cent to 3.31 million — and continued to grow older, while growth in the non-resident population slowed, the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) said in its annual Population in Brief report.

In particular, growth in foreign employment in the non-construction sector was halved to 25,000 workers last year, compared to 2011.

The TFR inched up to 1.29 last year, higher than 1.20 in 2011 but still way below the 2.1 replacement rate.

“More Singaporeans are getting married, and our birth rates have improved,” said the NPTD, which nevertheless noted that the TFR has been below replacement rate for more than three decades.

It added: “We need to continue our efforts to provide a supportive environment for Singaporeans to achieve their aspirations of getting married and having children.”

According to figures from the Department of Statistics, there were 531,200 permanent residents here as at end-June, falling slightly from 533,100 last year.

Over the same period, the non-resident population — made up of work pass holders, dependants and international students — grew from 1.49 million to 1.55 million.

About 30,000 PRs are granted each year since 2009, “to keep the PR population stable at between 0.5 million and 0.6 million and to ensure a pool of suitable candidates for citizenship”, said the NPTD.

It added that over the last five years, about 20,000 people were granted citizenship each year.

“We plan to continue this calibrated rate of immigration of between 15,000 and 25,000 new citizens each year to keep our citizen population from shrinking,” NPTD said.

For the first time, the proportion of citizens and PRs aged 65 years and above crossed the 10 per cent mark among the resident population, rising from 9.9 per cent last year to 11 per cent this year.

The citizen old-age support ratio has shrank steadily over the years. Currently, for each citizen aged 65 and above, there are 5.5 citizens in the working age band of 20 to 64 years old.

Sociologists TODAY spoke to said the latest population figures were “not surprising”, given the Government’s concerted effort to moderate the influx of foreigners in recent years — in line with the desire of citizens who had expressed dissatisfaction over congestion on public transport and keen competition for jobs and housing.

Said National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan: “The slower growth … is carefully calibrated to ease the consequences of too many people on a small island, so we are seeing the effects right now.”

Following the controversy earlier this year over the population projection in the Population White Paper, Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) Faculty Associate Tan Ern Ser felt that policymakers need to come up with an optimal population size, as Singapore deals with the challenges of an ageing population.

“We would need to know what our growth model and engines are, and determine what our optimum population size and profile can be, corresponding to meeting the needs of the economy and still have a liveable environment,” he said.

Based on current trends, it would be “anyone’s guess” if the old-age support ratio can be improved in the years ahead, IPS Senior Research Fellow Leong Chan Hoong said.

Associate Professor Straughan said that a mindset shift could be required to redefine the concept of an economically active individual, instead of “looking at (the age of) post-65 as a total exit”.

She noted that people are living longer and healthier lives.

On improving birth rates, the sociologists felt that it was too early to say if the Government’s enhanced Marriage and Parenthood Package — which was rolled out early this year — has been effective.

To create a more conducive environment, Assoc Prof Tan said that the Government should continue to enhance basic conditions such as work-life balance, support for parents, lower costs of living and job security. Assoc Prof Straughan suggested focusing national efforts on getting more singles to tie the knot.

“The trick is to encourage more women to get married, especially in the age group of 25 to 29, because if you get married earlier, it buys you more years of natural procreation,” she said.

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