Saturday 28 September 2013

Fast-ageing Singapore, fewer to support aged; Total population at 5.4 million as of June 2013

Experts fear this will exert pressure on economy, society and governance
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2013

SINGAPOREANS are living longer and not having enough babies to replace themselves, meaning the swiftly ageing population has fewer working citizens supporting the growing pool of elderly.

These worrying trends, which emerged from the latest population figures released yesterday, can exert significant pressure on Singapore's economy, society and governance in future, said experts. They added that those working may have to toil longer and pay more taxes, and the Government will need to invest more in elder-friendly facilities.

These will be in demand by a growing number of Singaporeans, with those aged 65 and above forming 11.7 per cent of the citizen population this year, up from 7.8 per cent in 2002.

This year's Population in Brief report also showed that the old-age support ratio - which is the number of citizens in the working age band of 20 to 64 needed to support one older citizen - is decreasing rapidly.

It has fallen from 8.4 in 2000 to 5.5 today. But a better picture emerges when permanent residents are included, with the ratio at 6.4 this year, down from 8.7 in 2002.

According to World Bank data, Singapore has the highest proportion of older residents and the fastest ageing population in South-east Asia.

It is greying much faster than other developed nations such as Australia, the United States and most European countries, though the rate is on a par with Hong Kong's and slower than Japan's and South Korea's.

Economists and demographers say this will mean greater demand for health care and eldercare services, and elder-friendly infrastructure such as barrier-free accessibility features in transport and housing.

DBS economist Irvin Seah said that with the Government inevitably spending more, it will mean a "heavier financial burden on the working population, which in turn may mean higher taxes".

But Ms Selena Ling of OCBC said that the state may continue with its redistributive tax model, where the rich pay more through wealth and asset taxes.

"Singapore has been financially prudent, we can afford to draw down on our reserves as well," the economist added.

An ageing population will also require a slight "reorientation" of the economy, she said. This would involve a greater focus on developing medical services and attracting more workers to the sector, as well as increasing productivity and the use of technology in jobs so that people can continue to work as they age.

Still, some population statistics gave cause for cheer. More Singaporeans are getting married, with 23,192 marriages involving at least one citizen last year, up from 22,712 the year before.

Singapore residents are also continuing to have more babies. After hitting an all-time low of 1.15 in 2010, the total fertility rate (TFR) was 1.2 in 2011, and 1.29 in last year's Dragon Year - though it is still below the replacement rate of 2.1.

This upward trend was seen across all three major races, with the biggest increase among the Chinese.

But Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Yap Mui Teng warned that the reversal in the TFR's decline may be due to couples wanting to have a child in the auspicious Dragon Year.

Population growth slowest in 9 years
1.6% rise brings total to 5.4 million, as fewer foreign workers are hired
By Tham Yuen-C and Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2013

SINGAPORE'S population grew to 5.4 million in June this year, a 1.6 per cent annual increase that is the slowest in nine years.

At the same time, the pool of old folk continues to swell, with one in 10 now 65 and above, according to official figures released yesterday.

The main reason for the population slowdown is the slower pace of growth in the foreign workforce.

The bulk of the growth came from the construction sector, where foreigners are hired for key infrastructure projects such as housing and transport, the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) said in a statement.

But in the non-construction sectors, growth slowed to about half that of a year ago, with 25,000 hired for the year ending in June this year, against 48,000 for the previous year.

The drop is a result of changes in official rules in recent years, which make it harder for companies to hire foreigners.

Yet more measures were announced earlier this week. These include a higher starting pay for foreign professionals, and companies having to advertise vacancies in a national jobs bank before they can apply to hire a foreigner on an Employment Pass.

As a result of the tightening of the tap, the non-resident population rose by just 4 per cent this year, compared to 7 per cent a year earlier. It reached 1.55 million in June, from 1.49 million a year ago.

Together with the resident population, it lifted Singapore's total population by 1.6 per cent, higher than the 1.3 per cent in 2004.

This new pace of growth still falls within the 1.3 per cent to 1.6 per cent range which the Government used in its controversial Population White Paper that forecast Singapore's population to top 6.9 million by 2030.

MP Liang Eng Hwa said that "at this pace, the growth is more sustainable".

But, he added, "we need to watch the demographic changes closely to see if the workforce will shrink significantly".

MP Inderjit Singh, a strong critic of the White Paper, found comfort in the figures.

"It shows the Government did listen to us when we suggested taking a pause to resolve issues like housing, transportation and hospital beds, before thinking about growing the population," said Mr Singh. "I think that is happening right now."

During the debate on the White Paper in Parliament, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and other ministers made clear that the 6.9 million figure was not a target, but a projection for the purpose of infrastructure and land-use planning.

He emphasised that the Government was not deciding now on any specific population size beyond 2020.

He also promised to maintain a Singaporean core.

The number of citizens grew to 3.31 million in June this year, from 3.29 million a year ago. This rise of less than 1 per cent is a result of more babies being born and immigration, said the NPTD.

Birth rates have gone up, with the latest figures showing the total fertility rate climbing to 1.29 last year, from 1.20 in 2011.

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