Demographics of Malaysia

August 27, 2011, 8:51 am

The demographics of Malaysia include represention by the multiple ethnic groups that exist in this country.  The demographic data include characteristics of a population, including ethnicity, citizenship, languages, religions, education and literacy, health, ancestry and welfare.


From 1960 to the year 2000 census, the total population grew from an estimated eight million to 23.3 million persons. The annual population growth rate averaged 2.6 percent for that period, gradually declining to 1.8 percent for 2005–6. Government figures for the first quarter of 2006 put the total population at 26.5 million. In 2000 the state with the highest population was Selangor (4.2 million), and Labuan had the lowest population (76,067). Total population figures include approximately 1.4 million non-Malaysian citizens, who comprised 5.9 percent of the total population in 2000. From 1960 to 2000, population density grew from 24 to 71 persons per square kilometer. In 2000 population density was lowest in the state of Sarawak (17 persons per square kilometer) and highest in the federal region of Kuala Lumpur (5,676 persons per square kilometer). From 1960 to 2000, the percentage of the population residing in urban areas increased from 25 to 62 percent. 


According to the 2000 census, 50.9 percent of the population was male and 49.1 percent female. Furthermore, 33.3 percent of the population was less than 15 years of age, 62.8 percent was 15 to 59 years of age, and 3.9 percent was 65 years of age or older. According to government data, from 1980 to 2005 life expectancy at birth increased from 66.4 to 71.8 years for males and from 70.5 to 76.2 years for females. During the same period, the crude birthrate fell from 30.9 to 19.6 births per 1,000 persons, the crude death rate fell from 5.3 to 4.4 deaths per 1,000 persons, and the infant mortality rate fell from approximately 23.9 to 5.1 deaths under one year of age per 1,000 live births. However, these figures often vary among ethnic groups. 

Ethnic Groups

According to the 2000 census, 50.2 percent of the population is Malay, 24.5 percent Chinese, 11 percent indigenous, 7.2 percent Indian, and 1.2 percent members of other ethnic groups. Non-Malaysian citizens make up the remaining 5.9 percent. These groups often can be divided by language, tribe, and other categories. Since independence, a common national identity has solidified, but ethnic divisions remain apparent in many aspects of daily life. Malays and indigenous groups often refer to themselves as bumiputra (“sons of the soil”), and ethnicity is associated with differences in politics, residence, socioeconomic position, and daily customs. The government has affirmative-action policies designed to promote social harmony, but critics claim such policies unfairly favor ethnic Malays over other groups. 


Bahasa Melayu is the official language. Other commonly spoken languages include English, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Panjabi, Thai, and various dialects of Chinese (Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, Hakka, and Hainan). In Eastern Malaysia, several indigenous languages are spoken, but Iban and Kadazan are the most prominent. The Malaysian census does not maintain data for the population of linguistic groups, but language and ethnicity are strongly associated. 


Freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed. According to government statistics, in 2000 approximately 60.4 percent of the population was Muslim, and Muslims were the highest percentage in every state except Sarawak, which was 42.6 percent Christian. Buddhism was the second most adhered to faith, claiming 19.2 percent of the population, and Buddhists constituted at least 20 percent of the total population in many states of Peninsular Malaysia. Of the remaining population, 9.1 percent was Christian; 6.3 percent Hindu; 2.6 Confucian, Taoist, and other Chinese faiths; 0.8 percent practitioners of tribal and folk religions; and 0.4 percent adherents of other faiths. Another 0.8 percent professed no faith, and the religious affiliation of 0.4 percent was listed as unknown. Religious issues have been politically divisive, particularly as non-Muslims opposed attempts to institute Islamic law in states such as Terengganu in 2003. 

Education and Literacy 

From 1991 to 2000, the literacy rate for persons aged 10 to 64 years of age increased from 88.6 percent to 93.5 percent. Government-assisted schools provide free education for children between ages six and 18, but only primary education (ages six to 12) is compulsory. In 2003 Malaysia operated 7,498 primary schools and 1,916 secondary schools and also funded specialized schools for religious education and special education. Primary education starts at age six, secondary education at age 12, and students may attend vocational or technical schools in lieu of the final four years of secondary education. Private schools receive no government funds but are subject to government regulation.

Bahasa Malaysia is the principal language of instruction. Chinese and Tamil are used only in primary education. English is taught as a second language. In 1994 English-language instruction was introduced to promote multiethnic socialization and to improve science and mathematics education. By 2003 legislation required that all mathematics and science courses be taught in English. Educational policies frequently have contentious overtones, often because of perceived ethnic discrimination. 


Health indicators and infrastructure have improved since independence; however, there have been increased deaths from heart disease, cancer, and diabetes suggesting greater health problems associated with high-income countries, but the country is also still affected by health problems that are more common in low-income countries. In 2004 the most common communicable diseases were dengue fever, malaria, measles, and tuberculosis. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was among common communicable diseases, but figures vary as to its prevalence. According to United Nations data, approximately 51,000 persons aged 15 to 49 had HIV in 2003, and the HIV prevalence rate was 0.4 percent, lower than the 0.6 percent rate for South and Southeast Asia overall. 

These improvements are often attributed to improvements in public nutrition, sanitation, and access to health services. Health services at public hospitals are highly subsidized and free to persons who cannot afford the costs, but private expenditures account for more than half of total health spending. The Ministry of Health operates public health services, and from 2000 to 2004 the ministry’s budget increased from approximately 6.3 percent to 8 percent of the national budget. In 2004 there were 1,969 public dental clinics, 1,924 rural clinics, 165 mobile clinics, 93 maternity and child health clinics, 125 government hospitals, and 218 private hospitals and “maternity/nursing homes.” There were also 18,246 doctors, or one doctor for every 1402 persons. Health services are more available in urban than in rural areas, but Malaysia has been developing “telehealth” and “telemedicine” for rural populations. In an effort to overcome a dearth of medical personnel, the government has built an “information technology-based” hospital in which patient data are stored in a central database rather than in paper files so that doctors can spend more time with patients than on paperwork.


Observers often contend that the government has become successful at managing social welfare and poverty reduction. Indeed, many development agencies have limited or ended their activities in Malaysia. The Department of Social Welfare administers 48 facilities that provide services for elderly persons, juvenile offenders, physically and mentally disabled persons, and others. The Social Security Organisation (SOCSO) administers social insurance, such as medical and disability benefits, for people—and their dependents—who are injured or killed in the course of employment. Available data suggest that from 1975 to 2002 the number of persons receiving social welfare services ranged from 4000 to 6000 persons annually, and that the number of persons receiving social insurance increased from 9,348 to 239,372. The Employee Provident Fund (EPF) provides retirement benefits derived from compulsory contributions from employees and the government. From 1975 to 2002, the number of employees who contributed to the EPF increased from 2.9 million to 10.2 million. 

See Also




(2011). Demographics of Malaysia. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/151686


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