Ethnic Groups of Singapore

Ever since Sir Stamford Raffles set up a trading post in Singapore, way back in 1819, the country has attracted people from all over Southeast Asia. Back then, the population of the island was sparse and the very first ethnic groups to make Singapore their home were the Malays and the Chinese. According to 2011 census, the population of the country was 5.18 million and among these, ethnic groups constitute more than 70 percent.

The Chinese

Chinese community is the largest ethnic group in the country as well as the very first foreigners to land in this island-city-nation. China Town is where most of these people stay. One of the major aspects that works in favor of the Chinese is language affinity with native Singaporean language. During British rule in Singapore, Chinese leaders were appointed to govern the Chinese population. The leaders helped Chinese find jobs and settle down in the country. Religious inclinations of this community have given rise to the numerous temples and religious associations here.

In the earlier days, the Chinese community preferred not to mingle with other ethnic groups. However, after independence, the newly elected government made a lot of efforts to break the wall and the community started mingling freely with all other groups. Today, Chinese are placed in important positions in the country and play a major role in economic, cultural and social development of Singapore. They are involved in businesses, administrative posts and managerial roles.

The Malay

Malays have live in Singapore since the 17th century. But even before this, Malay kings ruled Singapore as early as the 13th century AD. However, Malays who live in the country now are majorly from Indonesia and Malaysia. There was a majority population of Malays when Raffles established the post. Back in 1824, there were as many as 4,580 Malays,. Settlements of this community were found along Singapore River and Kallang River Basin. Islam is their predominant religion.

The community has occupied the bottom rung of the society for most of the history with the labor force being predominantly made up of Malays. Education levels were also low. Malays make up less than 5 percent of graduate population in the country. Less than 8 percent of skilled jobs such as teaching, administration and management were occupied by this community. After independence, the government began to take special interest in uplifting this community. Malays were resettled in the apartments of Housing and Development Board. As of now, the population of Malays has reduced in Singapore. However, they play a more active role in higher posts in economic development and nation building activity. Nevertheless, Malays make up the least percentage in these jobs.


Maximum number of Indians living outside India lives in Singapore. The British first took Indians to Singapore to work as slave labor. After they were released following independence, several Indians decided to stay back in the country and settle permanently. Dhobi Ghaut and Little India are two places which were predominantly occupied by the Indian community. Indian Tamil speaking people constituted majority population of the community, although people from all over India are found in Singapore now.

Tamil is one of the four official languages in Singapore, the other three being Chinese, Malay and English. Indians form a major workforce in all realms including business, law, arts, civil services, diplomacy, politics, education and corporate sector and others. The third president of Singapore, Chengara Veetil Devan Nair was an Indian. Besides this great leader, there have been several other prominent personalities of Indian descent in Singapore. The name of the country, Singapore, is an offshoot of two Sanskrit terms “singa” and “pura” which mean lion and city respectively.

Besides these three main ethnic groups, Singapore is home to a lot of other minor clusters of ethnicities as well. A good number of European population is also found here.

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