S’pore posts stagnant population density

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Experts say it is a result of Government limiting number of new immigrants

As Singapore's population growth slowed and the island increased in physical size, population density stagnated last year for the first time in over a decade.

Though the objective measure says one thing, observers said the figures may not translate into people feeling spaces are less crowded - at least not immediately.

Population density rose between 1 per cent and 4.5 per cent annually from 2007 to 2016.

But growth last year was flat, the official data shows.

In actual figures, the number of people living in each square kilometre dipped from 7,797 in 2016 to 7,796 last year.

As density calculates total population divided by land area, experts pointed to the recent slowdown in population growth as the main reason for the change.

"This is the result of a conscious decision by the Government to limit the number of new immigrants," said population expert and National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Jean Yeung.

Last year saw the first drop since 2003 in the number of foreigners living here. Non-resident population fell to 1.65 million, from 1.67 million in 2016.

Residents - comprising Singaporeans and permanent residents - still grew, so all in all, total population increased by 0.1 per cent over the previous year.

Meanwhile, reclamation has boosted the island's size over the years.

Singapore's land area grew to 719.9 sq km last year, up from 719.2 sq km the year before.

A decade earlier, the island was 700 sq km.

The stagnation in population density is likely to be a short-term phenomenon, said Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Leong Chan-Hoong.

He noted that it may rise again over the next five years as foreign manpower will likely be needed to supplement workers in critical service industries such as healthcare as the population ages.

Among economies and countries, Singapore ranks third in density, according to the World Bank - behind Macau (20,204 people per sq km) and Monaco (19,250).


Among cities, Singapore ranks second, after Dhaka (13,547), according to a report by the Singapore think-tank Centre for Liveable Cities.

Hong Kong (6,553) and London (5,210) are other dense cities, while Berlin (192) and Nairobi (208) occupy the other end of the spectrum.

But experts pointed out that the population density measure does not fully capture the lived experience of crowdedness in a city.

Total land area may include uninhabitable areas such as hills. Also, people's experience depends on how infrastructure and other resources are managed.

"People may still feel it is equally dense or more dense because they may be spending a big part of their time in their workplace in the central business district or industrial areas, which feel crowded," said Dr Leong.

He noted how density may feel different depending on which area one is in - at home, at work or in other parts of the city.

Associate Professor Pow Choon-Piew, from the NUS geography department, noted that many other cities with high population density are located within a larger country.

This means people choose to live in those cities despite the density, for the sake of other benefits.

In Singapore, however, residents cannot move out of the city if they want to get away from the crowd, he said.

He added: "While the statistics may show stagnation or marginal drop, people do not feel it on the ground especially during peak hours when crowds congregate in train stations or on the streets."

Other indicators such as green space per capita or living space per household could better reflect the sensation of crowdedness, he said.