What percentage of Singapore’s total population was born in Singapore?

For a piece on identity that I will be publishing on IPS Commons–with the excerpted version on Yahoo!–I needed to figure out the % of Singapore’s total population that was born in Singapore. I am interested in this number only as a discussion point for identity, nothing else. (Please read the article to see my argument.)

Singapore’s National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) was unable to provide me with the data. This is its official response: “The number of Singapore citizens, as at Dec 2011, is 3.27 million. We do not provide a breakdown in terms of local-born or naturalised citizens, as we regard them all as Singaporeans.”

Based on this, I do not know if the government does not have the data or if it has the data but does not want to release it to the public. In any case, I have performed a very rough calculation based on other publicly available data to arrive at a rough guesstimate that 45.8% of Singapore’s total population (residents and non-residents) was born in Singapore.

Here are my very rough workings and assumptions:

In theory, the way to calculate the two should be

Singapore-born citizen population, 2011 = Number of Singapore-born citizens in 1965 + All newborns from 1965-2011 – Newborns who did not take citizenship – All deaths of Singapore-born citizens from 1965-2011 – All Singapore-born citizens who emigrated 1965-2011.

Foreign-born citizen population, 2011 = Number of foreign-born citizens in 1965 + All new naturalised citizens from 1965-2011 – All deaths of foreign-born citizens from 1965-2011.

However, the above data sets are not available publicly.

So, given what I could find, I have decided to calculate

Foreign-born citizen population, 2011 = (Number of citizens in 1970/ 2) + (All new naturalised citizens from 1970-2011: 3*naturalised from 2001-2010) – (All deaths of foreign-born citizens from 1970-2011: Half of the first number)


In 1970, foreign-born citizens comprised half the total citizen population

All deaths of foreign-born citizens from 1970-2011: Half of the above number

New naturalised citizens from 1970-2011–3 times the number of naturalised citizens from 2001-2010. If the absolute number of new citizens was consistent over the years, I should multiply this by 4.2 for the 42-year span–but I have applied a discount, given the assumption that absolute naturalisations would have been higher in 2001-2010 than the other years.

The number of foreigners (i.e. non-Singapore citizens) born in Singapore and now living in Singapore is negligible. This assumption is used in my final calculation, the % of Singapore’s total population that is born in Singapore, i.e. I assume there are no non-citizens born here and still living here.


So, from government data, we know that:

Total population, 2011:5.26m

Total citizen population, 2011: 3.27m

Number of citizens in 1970: 1.8748m

New naturalised citizens, 2001-2010: 131,142

So, to repeat my guesstimate equation–

Foreign-born citizen population, 2011 = (Number of citizens in 1970/ 2) + (All new naturalised citizens from 1970-2011: 3*naturalised from 2001-2010) – (All deaths of foreign-born citizens from 1970-2011: Half of the first number)


Foreign-born citizen population, 2011 = (1.8748/ 2) + (0.131,142*3) – (0.4687) = 0.862126m

Local-born citizen population, 2011 = 3.27m-0.862126m = 2.407874m

So, the percentage of Singapore citizens born in Singapore, 2011 = 2.407874/3.27 = 73.6%

And, the percentage of Singapore’s total population that was born in Singapore, 2011 = 2.407874/5.26 = 45.8%

So, that’s about it. Obviously this is a very rough estimate. If any of you can spot any errors in my calculations, or have better methods of calculating this, please let me know.

And, to reiterate, the only point of doing all this is for the discussion on identity. It seems to me that for the basic argument in my essay–that it is difficult to construct a strong national identity when only less than half the population is born in a place–I have a fairly big margin of error: 45.8% is well below 50%.

Look forward to your thoughts.

30 thoughts on “What percentage of Singapore’s total population was born in Singapore?

  1. I am actually not surprised if this is the percentage. The reality is that we do have a low birth rate and we have been importing migrants.

  2. It’s like that lawyer joke about the client whose neighbour owed her $50 but she didn’t have any proof of it. So the lawyer advised her to write a letter to her neighbour that she was owed $100 and let the latter dispute that and claim $50 instead, thereby providing the necessary proof. You just need to provide a figure, perhaps the wilder the better, and watch the ensuing outrage play out in the public. The PAP is then faced with providing the correct and/or more palatable figure, or staying stony-faced in the onslaught.

  3. Have you considered the fact that thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of our older generation were born in Malaya but moved to Singapore during and after WWII and have lived here since? My father is one such, and so are all of his siblings as well as their mother. All moved here by the 1940s. My (late) grandfather was not even born in Malaya but in China. How many years do they have to be here before you consider them “naturalized” enough for you?

    1. dear Alf, my father was also born in Malaysia in 1945, and moved to Singapore soon after. The purpose of my calculation is simply as a discussion point for identity. My point is that a person’s identity will always be shaped both by the place they were born, and the place they move to, in different ways. Of course, people like your dad and mine might possibly be considered in the Singapore-born group here, in terms of identity. But it’s not clear.

  4. Too complicated a formula. Just have the current citizens, take out all the guys who took up Singapore citzenship in the last 20 years, and I think that number is good enough.

    Like the other commenter above though, I don’t see how this figures shows anything.

  5. How did you decide that “In 1970, foreign-born citizens comprised half the total citizen population” Both that and your assumed death rate seem pretty hefty assumptions.

    1. Whoops, missing a question mark there, sorry.

      I also agree with an earlier commenter that the presence Malaya-born citizens are likely to have a somewhat different effect on the ease or otherwise of constructing a Singaporean identity…

  6. Should have simplify stuff a lot more..
    in year 2000, there was about 2.6 mil citizens/residents that were born in Singapore, (Assumed these are Singaporeans) http://www.singstat.gov.sg/pubn/popn/c2000sr1/t8-13.pdf
    in 2010, we had 3.7 singapore residents, 3.2 million singaporeans + 0.5 million PRs http://www.singstat.gov.sg/pubn/popn/C2010sr1/cop2010sr1.pdf

    Since we had declining birth rates, but increasing expectancy, I believed it is safe to say we still have at least 2.6 million local born in SG. Given the current population of about 5.2 million, this means 1 in 2 ppl u see on the street are not born in SG. This also mean that about 1 in 5 “Singaporeans” you meet are actually foreigners

    1. If we’re looking at citizens/residents, much easier to calculate. But for the piece I was writing, I was interested just in citizens–mostly because it’s unclear what the relationship is between residents and national identity, in any country.

      1. well.. my point was… your formulas seems too complicated and it confused people..(maybe just me)
        I came up with roughly the same figure without putting in too much assumptions..
        percentage of Singapore citizens born in Singapore:74.6% vs 80%
        percentage of Singapore’s total population that was born in Singapore: 45.8% vs 50%

      2. In his lecture on the htsroiy of the Malaysian and Singapore left, Dr Poh Soo Kai has been very consistent in reminding people from both sides of the Johor Straits that Singapore has always been historically and geographically an inalienable part of peninsula Malaya now known as peninsula Malaysia.Singapore’s relation with peninsula Malaysia can be likened to Hong Kong with mainland China. Interactions and intermingling of people from both sides of the Johor Straits or the Shenzhen River can never be cut off. The linguistic, eating and other daily lifestyle habits of a Malay, Chinese, Indian and or Eurasian from Singapore is hardly discernible from his or her counterpart from peninsula Malaysia whereas a Chinese person from Hong Kong can be easily identified from his or her counterpart from mainland China the minute he or she starts to speak Cantonese freely spiced with Hong Kong jargons or more particularly Mandarin with a heavy Hong Kong Cantonese accent. If Hong Kong can remerge with China, more so Singapore with Malaysia especially if and when the Ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy) mindset consciously and systematically perpetrated by the ruling UMNO party with the help of their former British colonial masters loses its mass appeal and or dominant influence in the daily discourse among younger generations of Malaysians especially those from the Malay community. The coming 2013 General Election in Malaysia may mark the end of UMNO’s incumbency along with its Ketuanan Melayu mindset which forms the ideological anchor of its long-standing Bumiputra (meaning princely sons of the soil’) Policy of ensuring that the native Malay racial majority will enjoy their full share of the nation’s wealth . This would set the stage for the rise of a Malaysia for Malaysians mindset which even current UMNO leaders have to pay lip service to but only the multi-racial Keadilan party leaders are able to put into practice by opening their party doors to all Malaysians regardless of race and religion. The Keadilan-led opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat was able to break the two-third majority stranglehold of the Malaysian parliament by the long-ruling UMNO-led Barisan Nasional during the 2008 GE under the charismatic leadership of Keadilan leader, Anwar Ibrahim whose return from political wilderness was instrumental in helping to pull off such a historic political feat. Former longest-ruling prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew should feel vindicated because his long incumbent People’s Action Party in Singapore was championing the same mindset with the Malaysian Malaysia slogan before the PAP was booted out of the Malaysian Federation in 1965.As for pointing out the fact that Singapore has always been a safe haven for hot money accumulated by super-rich Asian tycoons from newly industrializing countries in East, South and Southeast Asia especially hot cash from Indonesia, China and recently India, Dr Poh has exposed the secret behind the Singapore success story which all boils down to becoming the Switzerland of the super-rich in the region. However, the limited space of barely 700 square kilometers puts a severe cap on how far Singapore can continue playing Switzerland to the tremendous amount of money needed to be laundered and or kept for long-term safekeeping from public auditing in their host countries. Remerging with Malaysia immediately resolves not only space limitation but also aging demographic problems. Surely Lee Kuan Yew and his ruling party elites are more than capable of fathoming this objective limitation to the continuity of Singapore playing the role of being the Switzerland of Asia, aren’t they? In view of a possible opposition victory in the coming GE in Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim and most of his coalition partners in the opposition Pakatan Rakyat leadership would not be unreceptive to suggestions for a re-merger between Malaysia and Singapore, would they?

      3. You can’t solve unemployment at the eepxnse of other citizens. These unsuitable people with character flaws should be deployed to other industries.You can’t close your eyes to stealing becuase the thieves need to earn a living, right? MAS must get rid of these thieves, MDRThief, COThief, TOThief before the others are impoverished by them.It is true that these agents are thieves. Do they dare to show their work?I bet you you can pick out the mis-selling, the misrepresentation, the conflict of interest and the cheating in all their cases sold.MAS must quickly act on them before more consumers kenna conned.

  7. Let’s pick up the pitchforks and burn the god damn Taiwanese Chan Show Mao on a Stake. Damn Foreigners.

    Does the above statement sounds stupid to you? If it does that’s how your article sounds to anyone who isn’t a xenophobic racist dick

    1. I like give examples why I supprot foreigners or PRs working in Singapore (give me a chance and hear me out)!1. Foreign Engineers – More focus and more technical; rare skills as most locals very management-oriented and not hands-on. Both groups can be as hardworking and spent long hours in the workplace.When skills are rare, salary gets higher!Locals may want to explore to learn reals skills than just talk and expect high pay. Locals also know the m.c. (medical certificate) tactics when some will conveniently be on M.c. when there is stock taking or audits, etc. HRs and boss have eyes too!2. Foreign studentsI mean the real students. Here to get better accreditation. These are the global brains and we need these committed groups to be interested in research and spent time. V committed. Local students too keen to make money and do the wrong work at the wrong time.3. Foreign HelpMy hourly local auntie charges me $12/hour for domestic help. Ask for $5 more for transport. Total cost approx $50 for 3-4hours; (actually leave within 2 hours as we did not see her when we came home early sometimes). Iron 7 shirts, do not work weekends, do not clean windows. Domestic maid- nothing to say, we should treat them better.

    2. MAS thinks MoneySense can equip cneoumsrs to become financially literate when insurance agents spent 20 years in the business yet have no idea what finance or even insurance is all about.I am not exaggerating. This is the painful truth that MAS refuses to admit.99.99% of the insurance agents are unqualified and this explains why they peddle products for commission.This is very dangerous. Unless MAS takes a drastic step by removing commission and make them do need based financial planning will the insurance agents ever learn., ie. force them. Shape up or ship out. Fleecing the cneoumsrs by product pushing is over.It will not turn Singapore into a financial hub with these wheeling dealing agents conning the cneoumsrs.

  8. Perhaps an action for the introduction of a Bumi policy wouldnt be out of place. When the PM says says that Singaporeans are always at the heart of any policies, which Singaporeans is he talking about. Obviously any policies which cater to naturalised Singaporeans ( especially in recent times) have a low probability of overlap with Bumiporeans

  9. To continue- what is UN Liveability criteria connected with it? Surely there must be some kind of numbers for a good life- starting with population density. Singapore’s population density may still pass muster even with 6.9 mill. Population should be divided by gross floor area. What is Singapores GFA btw.
    Also , as in Beijing, where because of the pollution, they only allowed certain cars ( eg odd numbered cars, even numbered cars) on certain days on the road, our Government can make a rule ordering people from certain areas to stay in on certain days.

  10. hey Sudhir, I think wordpress allows for guest bloggers. I would dearly like to write something. Of course you would be able to moderate

    1. Hi jayjay, why don’t you write something on the Comments section, as you have been? You can make it as long as you want. I don’t have any guest bloggers on this blog–not sure if I should, could get confusing for reader?

  11. Hi Sudhir,

    Not disputing your mathemathical approach (yet ;)) but I offer a much simpler one at estimating the figure for the percentage of the total population of Singapore born in Singapore as of 2011, with 2 simple assumptions, leading to a third corollary:

    Assumption 1: The number of foreign-born Singapore citizens making up the total voting electorate of General Election (GE) 2011 is negligible.

    Assumption 2: The number of Singapore-born Singapore citizens that did not make the voting (electoral) list of General Election (GE) 2011, for whatever reason (overseas, not identified, etc.) is negligible.

    Corollary assumption: Assumption 1 and Assumption 2 cancel each other out : net zero.


    Total voting electorate of GE 2011 = 2,350,873

    Total Population of Singapore, 2011 = 5,260,000

    Percentage of Total Population born in Singapore = 2.350,873/5,260,000 = 44.69%

    By the way, I am a 2nd-generation Singapore-born pink-IC Singaporean. 🙂

    1. Thanks. Interesting, though a few comments:
      a) Apparently the percentage of the electorate that is foreign born is >10%, so not insignificant.
      b) This approach excludes non-voters, e.g. below 18
      c) This may exclude Tanjong Pagar constituency, didn’t vote in 2011

      1. Yes agreed although my approach at an estimate would still be plausible if a) is approximately equal to b) and c) of your comments. Cheers.

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