Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Ethnic and gender specific life expectancies of the Singapore population, 1965 to 2009 – converging, or diverging?

Raymond Boon Tar Lim*, Huili Zheng, Qian Yang, Alex Richard Cook, Kee Seng Chia and Wei Yen Lim

Author Affiliations

Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, National University of Singapore, MD3, 16 Medical Drive, Singapore 117597, Singapore

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:1012  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-1012

Published: 26 October 2013



The increase in life expectancy and the persistence of expectancy gaps between different social groups in the 20th century are well-described in Western developed countries, but less well documented in the newly industrialised countries of Asia. Singapore, a multiethnic island-state, has undergone a demographic and epidemiologic transition concomitant with economic development. We evaluate secular trends and differences in life expectancy by ethnicity and gender in Singapore, from independence to the present.


Period abridged life tables were constructed to derive the life expectancy of the Singapore population from 1965 to 2009 using data from the Department of Statistics and the Registry of Births and Deaths, Singapore.


All 3 of Singapore’s main ethnic groups, and both genders, experienced an increase in life expectancy at birth and at 65 years from 1965 to 2009, though at substantially different rates. Although there has been a convergence in life expectancy between Indians and Chinese, the (substantial) gap between Malays and the other two ethnic groups has remained. Females continued to have a higher life expectancy at birth and at 65 years than males throughout this period, with no evidence of convergence.


Ethnic and gender differences in life expectancy persist in Singapore despite its rapid economic development. Targeted chronic disease prevention measures and health promotion activities focusing on people of Malay ethnicity and the male community may be needed to remedy this inequality.

Life expectancy; Mortality; Singapore; Gender differences; Ethnic differences; Converging; Diverging