Profile of the Singapore worker: Older and better qualified, with higher incomes, more in unions

Singapore’s labour force has grown substantially over the past two decades, from 2.2 million in 1999 to 3.7 million last year.

This comprises people who are employed – also known as being in the workforce – as well as those who are unemployed, that is, not in a job but want to and are able to work.

It can also be broken down into local residents, which refer to Singaporeans and permanent residents, and foreigners.

Singaporeans make up about 85 per cent of the resident labour force.

Here are nine key characteristics about the resident labour force, as seen from statistics collected by the Ministry of Manpower.

The age profile is rising as the population ages

In 1999, 56 per cent of the resident labour force was aged 15 to 39, while last year, the proportion was just 40.6 per cent.

This means the majority are now aged 40 and above.

More older workers are remaining in the labour force instead of retiring.

While the same breakdown is not available for data for 1999, the labour force participation rate for residents aged 65 to 69 rose from 29.9 per cent in 2009 to 46.1 per cent last year.

For those aged 70 and above, the rate rose from 10.5 per cent in 2009 to 17.6 per cent last year.

More women are working

The number of resident women aged 15 and above who are employed here has risen from 606,200 in 1999 to 1.03 million last year.


Residents in the labour force who were aged 15 to 39 last year. In 1999, the proportion was 56 per cent.


Residents aged 15 and above in the labour force last year who were degree holders.


Median gross monthly income for residents in full-time work last year – which has more than doubled from $1,950 in 1999 – excluding employer CPF contributions.

The employment rate for women aged 15 and above rose in tandem from 48.1 per cent in 1999 to 58.3 per cent last year.

Interestingly, the rate for men dipped slightly over the same period, from 74.2 per cent to 72.4 per cent.

As a result, the gap between women’s and men’s employment rates has shrunk.

It’s becoming more common to have higher qualifications

Last year, more than one in three – 37.5 per cent – residents aged 15 and above in the labour force were degree holders.

This is more than double the proportion (14.6 per cent) who had degrees back in 1999.

Similarly, last year, three in 10 – 31.4 per cent – residents aged 15 and above in the labour force had post-secondary qualifications, diplomas or professional qualifications.

In 1999, just 20.9 per cent had upper secondary qualifications, which include diplomas and professional qualifications, or polytechnic diplomas.

As workers became more educated, a greater share of them took on professional, manager, executive and technician (PMET) jobs.

A total of 58.3 per cent of employed residents last year were in PMET jobs, up from 42 per cent in 1999. For employed citizens, the share working in PMET jobs was 55.8 per cent last year.

As the economy grew, the share of foreigners employed here also grew

Last December, residents made up 62.3 per cent of the workforce, down from 71.3 per cent in June 1999. Foreign domestic workers are included in the total for this calculation.

The share of residents increased slightly this year to 62.9 per cent in June, amid the Covid-19 crisis which has resulted in many foreign workers leaving Singapore after losing their jobs.

Excluding foreign domestic workers, the number of foreigners employed here fell by 5.7 per cent, or 66,400, in the first half of the year, sharper than the fall of 2.7 per cent, or 62,700, of resident workers.

Incomes have risen over the last two decades

The median gross monthly income for residents in full-time work has more than doubled, from $1,950 in 1999 to $4,000 last year.

The increase was greater among women, for whom median income rose 123 per cent over that period to $3,772 last year.

Men saw a smaller increase of 111 per cent but still had a higher median income last year of $4,229.

The data is for people aged 15 and above besides full-time national servicemen, and excludes employer contributions to workers’ Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings.

Another thing to note is that in 1999, full-time employment referred to normal working hours of at least 30 hours per week, while from 2009 onwards, it refers to normal working hours of at least 35 hours per week.

Singaporeans have also seen incomes grow over the years.

Singapore citizen-specific data released earlier this year includes employer CPF contributions, and shows that the median gross monthly income from work for Singaporeans in full-time work was $4,333 last year, slightly lower than the median for residents of $4,563.

The service sector employs the lion’s share of all workers here

Within services, community, social and personal services – which includes public administration and education – is the largest sector by employment, followed by wholesale and retail trade.

This was the same in 1999 and last year.

As of June this year, a total of 74.3 per cent of people here were employed in service sector jobs.

Central Provident Fund contribution rates are higher

The rates are 37 per cent up to the age of 55, with employers contributing 17 per cent and employees, 20 per cent.

Total contribution rate tapers down to 12.5 per cent for people above 65.

In 1999, CPF contribution rates had been slashed following the Asian financial crisis.

The total rate was 30 per cent up to the age of 55, with employers contributing 10 per cent and employees 20 per cent. The total rate tapered down to 7 per cent for people aged above 65.

Union membership has more than doubled in last two decades

There were 76 employees’ trade unions in 1999, with 289,707 members. Last year, there were 63 unions, with 785,643 members. They comprise unions affiliated to the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and those that are not.

NTUC’s latest figure this year states that it has 950,000 members, which includes other forms of memberships besides those with unions, such as with its Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit, National Taxi Association – whose members are not employees – and youth club nEbO.

Workplace safety has improved

The work-related fatality rate fell from 6.5 per 100,000 workers in 1999, to 1.1 per 100,000 workers last year. The current target is to reduce and sustain Singapore’s workplace fatality rate at less than one per 100,000 workers by 2028.

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