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What It Means To Have 6.5m Population

Four in 10 of the projected population will have to be newcomers

By Saw Swee Hock
Mar 23 2007

THE magic number of 6.5 million, which surfaced recently as a population
planning parameter for the Singapore Government for the next 40 to 50
years, has intrigued many and sparked considerable public discussion. For
any discussion to be fruitful, however, it is imperative for all concerned
to appreciate the basic population dynamics underlying this pronouncement.

In 2005, the total population of Singapore was 4.35 million, with 3.55
million residents (citizens and Permanent Residents) and 0.8 million
non-residents. My latest projection, based on total fertility rate (TFR)
remaining constant at the current level of 1.31, reveals that the resident
population will increase from the current number to the peak of 3.64
million in 2015. Thereafter, it will start to decline continuously to
touch the low of 2.86 million in 2050.

The fact that TFR has consistently stayed below the replacement level of
2.1 since 1975 has made it impossible for the resident population to
replenish itself through natural increase alone (births minus deaths)
after 2015. Thereafter, the resident population can only grow with the
addition of net migrational inflow (immigrants minus emigrants). To be
precise, we need about 0.78 million - the difference of the resident
population high of 3.64 and the low of 2.86 in 2050 - newcomers to enter
Singapore after 2015 just to ensure that the resident population stays
stationary at 3.64 million until 2050.

Assuming that the non-resident population rises from 0.80 million in 2005
to 1.01 million in 2015, the total population will amount to 4.65 million
in 2015. However, if we want this total population to expand to 6.5
million in 2050, we will require an additional influx of 1.85 million
newcomers after 2015. These newcomers may become PRs or even citizens,
while others may remain as non-residents.

Taken together, the total number of newcomers needed to swell the total
population to 6.5 million in 2050 will be as large as 2.63 million
(0.78+1.85). This will have a major impact on the future composition of
the population, with the proportion of newcomers arriving after 2015
constituting some 40.5 per cent of the total population in 2050 - the
highest Singapore would have seen.

If we target a smaller figure of 5.5 million in 2050, the total number of
newcomers needed after 2015 will be less, at 1.63 million. In this case,
their share of the total population in 2050 will also be lower, at 29.6
per cent.

These calculations, however, are mere projections. In reality, how many
newcomers will pick Singapore as their home - whether for a year or for
good - will be dependent on economic conditions prevailing in the country
and the world at large, which will determine the future demand for foreign
labour. As such, it is almost impossible to ascertain the inflow of
newcomers for the next 40 to 50 years.

Population expert Saw Swee Hock is a Professorial Fellow in the Institute
of Southeast Asian Studies. This article, written for Today, is a summary
of the results of his latest population projection that will appear in the
second edition of his book, The Population of Singapore, scheduled to be
published in the second half of this year.

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