How Has Singapore Maintained Her Ethnic Demographic Over The Past 30 Years?

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Ethnic Demographic Maintained Despite Chinese Singaporeans Having Low Fertility Rates

Getting Singaporeans to reproduce remains an immensely difficult task.

At one time, the job of getting Singaporeans to do the deed fell on then-Senior Minister of State for National Population and Talent Division Josephine Teo.

Small space, that’s all you need!
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Despite her best efforts, Singapore’s total fertility rate (TFR) dipped to 1.16 in 2017, the second-lowest figure ever recorded, and the lowest in 6 years.

Singapore’s TFR by race

Singaporean Chinese have been leading the way in choosing to not have kids.

Based on Government data, they nearly almost always had the lowest TFR among the racial groups between 1980 and 2011.

We chose to start studying data from 1980 since that was the year that Government records began differentiating between resident population (Singapore citizens and Permanent Residents) and total population.

Red: Chinese, Orange: Malay, Blue: Indian
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Over that period, the TFR of Singaporean Chinese hovered between a low of 1.02 in 2010 to a high of 1.84 in the dragon year of 1988.

Singaporean Malays, on the other hand, consistently have the highest TFR among the racial groups in the period.

Over those 31 years, their TFR spanned from 1.64 at its lowest in 2011 to 2.69 at its highest in 1990.

Based on these trends, Singapore’s racial makeup should have changed significantly over the years – possibly with a fewer percentage of Chinese and a higher percentage of Malays.

CMIO proportions mysteriously maintained

But that’s not the case. Singapore’s racial makeup remains similar to what it was at independence: 70% Chinese, 15% Malay, and 10% Indian.

Have a look at Singapore’s racial makeup in 1960.

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As compared to the same numbers, in 2017.


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While it may be difficult to explain how this phenomenon is achieved, the reasons behind it may lie with Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

A Chinese majority’s bearing on Singapore’s “economic success”

In 1989, then-Prime Minister Lee allegedly said that Singaporean Chinese must maintain their majority must maintain their majority, “or there will be a shift in the economy, both the economic performance and the political backdrop which makes that economic performance possible.”

In the same year, Singapore begun importing “foreign talents” for the first time, although limited to professionals from Hong Kong.

Even though just 81 professionals were initially granted permanent residence, Mr Lee had to defend the policy by convincing Singaporeans that the employment of local professionals was not threatened.

According to one academic, Mr Lee separately explained that maintaining the Chinese majority was integral to economic success, due to the “culture” and “nature” of the ethnic group.

Racial breakdown of new citizens unknown

Some speculate that Singapore may be artificially manipulating its ethnic ratio, perhaps guided by this “policy”.

The easiest way to do this is by allowing more ethnically-Chinese new citizens in, at levels just enough to offset the fact that Singaporean Chinese aren’t giving birth as much as other races are.

While official figures of new citizens’ racial background aren’t readily available, The Straits Times reports that about 20,000 people become new Singaporeans annually.

Do you think there are other reasons for how Singapore maintains a majority Chinese population? Let us know in the comments below.

Featured image via Singapore2025.

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