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Demographic Trends

Singapore has experienced a prolonged period of declining fertility and high life expectancy for more than three decades. Singapore's fertility rate in 1957 peaked to six children per woman, but dramatically declined to the replacement level of 2.15 by 1975. Singapore has experienced below-replacement fertility since 1975. Factors attributed to such a rapid decline in fertility include higher ages of marriage and childbearing; and greater family planning measures among the resident population. The life expectancy at birth has also increased from around 68 years in 1970 to 80.4 years in 2007 (ROS, DOS 2008). This is expected to rise to around 85 years by 2050 (UN 2006).

Declining fertility rates and increasing life expectancy (both at birth and during old age) has lead to profound changes in the age-structural composition of the population. This has resulted in population aging, labor force shortages, increasing elderly dependency ratios, and feminization of the elderly population. This has important implications for the resources needed for retirement and health care.

Selected indicators of Singapore's demographic profile for its resident population are provided in Table 1 [ PDF 17.6KB | 1 page ]. Singapore's rapid aging becomes particularly evident after 2010 (Table 1). Thus, population aged above 65 years, as projected by The United Nations, will increase from about 0.46 million in 2010 to 1.41 million in 2030, an increase of 207% in just two decades (Table 1).

Life expectancy at age 65, currently at 17.2 years for men, and 20.6 years for women (ROS, DOS 2008) is also expected to rise, thereby posing even greater challenges in managing an aging society. The working-age persons to elderly ratio will decline from 7.7 in 2010, to 2.2 in 2030, and further to 1.8 in 2050. The median age of the resident population in 2007 was 36.4 years, and this is expected to increase to 53.7 by 2050 (ROS, DOS 2008; UN 2006).

The above dynamics of rapid aging is evident from the population pyramids for Singapore over the period 2000–2050 (Figure 1 [ PDF 44.5KB | 1 page ]). The changes in age-structures revealed by the pyramid in 2010 and in 2050 are particularly striking. In 2010, the largest number of men and women were in the 40–44 age–group; but by 2050, it is projected that the largest number of females will be in the 75–79 age group; and males in the 55–59 age group. This also suggests increasing feminization of the elderly population.

Table 2 [ PDF 16.9KB | 1 page ] provides the age-specific Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) for males and females in Singapore for 2006. Singapore's total LFPR, at 65%, is higher than the corresponding figure for Japan (54%) and Republic of Korea (62%), but lower than that of Denmark (78%) and Canada (67%).4 However, the LFPR for age groups between 40 to 64 years is much lower in Singapore. Thus, for the age group 60–64 years, Singapore's LFPR at 44% compares unfavorably with Japan (55%), Republic of Korea (56%), Canada (45%), and United States (52%). Such a pattern is also observed in the LFPR for the 65–69 age group.

Singapore policymakers have argued that a longer period in the labor force may be an important instrument for coping with the financial needs of old age. However, even for the 60–64 age group, only 44% are in the labor force and this figure declines sharply at higher ages (Table 2). For women, this is particularly the case, where only one in six women in the 65–69 age group was in the labor force in 2006. Since the mean life expectancy at age 65 for women was 20.6 years in 2006, such a low level of labor force participation does not suggest that this will be a major instrument for ensuring financial adequacy in old age.

The above analysis suggests that Singapore's demographic transition has been consistent with trends observed in industrial countries, except that in Singapore, the transition has occurred much more rapidly. Singapore has moved from being a high-fertility, low middle income country during the 1950s to a high income, demographically mature city-state in the span of a few decades.

Download this Discussion Paper [ PDF 155.4KB| 15 pages ].

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    The views expressed in this paper are the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), its Board of Directors, or the governments they represent. ADBI does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this paper and accepts no responsibility for any consequences of their use. Terminology used may not necessarily be consistent with ADB official terms.

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