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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: December 2020

7 - Whither Integration?: Managing the Politics of Identity and Social Inclusion



Singapore, like many other modern developed economies, faces a rapidly ageing society and a low fertility rate. In 2011, the total fertility rate (TFR), or average number of newborn to each female resident hit an all-time low of 1.15. At the same time, the old-age support ratio or number of working adults supporting a Singaporean aged 65 years old and above stands at 7.0. If there is no increase in the birth rate or immigration, by 2030 this support ratio is projected to fall to below 3.0. Without sufficient labour replacement, future generations of Singaporeans will be saddled with escalating social expenses associated with an ageing society.

As a global city and regional business hub, Singapore constantly needs to broaden its talent base to maintain its economic vibrancy and dynamism. Failure to do so would see the country lose its edge in innovation, entrepreneurship, and commence.

With this demographic backdrop in mind, the population growth of Singapore must be augmented by inbound migration if it is to satisfy its socio-economic imperatives. Between 2001 and 2004, an average of 35,250 people a year were granted permanent residency. This number peaked at an average of 63,100 per annum between 2005 and 2010.

This influx of global talent and long-term residents has proved to be politically and socially unpalatable, exposing underlying tensions in the social structure. Empirical and anecdotal feedback shows that the affective division between foreign-born and local Singaporeans has escalated in recent years.

Empirically, much of the disquiet could be delineated into two components: resource constraints and the sense of cultural encroachment. First, with a larger resident population, the competition for finite economic resources has intensified. The burgeoning population has resulted in the overloading of public infrastructures and amenities, with insufficient places in schools, under-provision of health care services, and an overcrowded transport system. This competition for resources consequently feeds into a higher cost of living and elevated levels of anxiety arising from job and resource insecurity.

Apart from tangible resource woes, there is a sense that the Singaporean identity has been steadily eroded by the staggering number and proportion of foreigners living in the city-state. This perception of being under siege is not unfounded.