Background – ASEAN Country Details and Characteristics


The total population of ASEAN is estimated to be 600 million with a large young population aged between 15 and 60 years.

Table 1: Population, Life Expectancy and Retirement in ASEAN countries

Literacy rates

The literacy rate of the young population in Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam is high averaging more then 90%, while that in Thailand and Indonesia is more then 80%. The other countries have relatively high literacy rates and education policies within these countries would bring them to the level of the advanced economies in the near future. Governments in the region have attached importance to education with the provision of free education at the primary and secondary level being available to all children. In Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Thailand education has become compulsory. Expenditure on universal education in these countries constitutes a major proportion of the social expenditure.


The provision of universal health services to the population is another important human development program. The health facilities and services provided differ both by country and within the individual countries. The virtual free immunization programs in all these countries have resulted in positive health outcomes. The total fertility rate, defined in terms of children per woman, in 2000-2005 period (medium variant) was higher than the replacement rate of 2.15 in countries like Indonesia (2.37), Malaysia (2.93), Laos and Philippines (3.22); and below in Singapore (1.35) and Thailand (1.93).(Source United Nations Population Statistics, 2005)

Table 2: Population, Fertility Rate, and Life Expectancy in ASEAN countries

Individual and population ageing

Individual ageing refers to increased life expectancy in the period 2000-2005. Life expectancy at birth in ASEAN countries averaged:

Table 3: Individual ageing

Population ageing on the other hand refers to the proportion of the total population which is aged, i.e. over 60 (or 65) years. In 2005, population over 60 years was low in countries like:
Philippines (6.2 percent), and Malaysia (7 percent).

However, they are relatively high in:

Indonesia (8.4 percent), Thailand (10.25 percent); Singapore (12.2 percent); and Vietnam (7.4).

As women live longer than men on average, but usually have lower exposure to employment in the formal sector and earn wages that are lower than men on average, women become more exposed to the risk of poverty in old age and this issue becomes very important in social security protection.

Labour force

As ASEAN is developing economically, most of the population is still in rural areas and supported by agriculture. There are issues of urban migration or migration to centres of economic development in most ASEAN countries. As most of the population presently relies on agriculture, this traditionally based economic structure supports the extended family and has generally hindered the growth of national or regional social protection systems. However, Singapore virtually has no agricultural sector while Brunei has a very small agricultural sector. The other member countries rely on the large agricultural sector, which comprises a large portion of the informal sector, to provide economic opportunity to a major section of the population. The labour force employed in this sector is large especially in Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar. Malaysia has acquired a balance due to economic development in past decades. The informal sector covers a substantial proportion of the economy of many Southeast Asian countries. In 2000, more than half of the labour force was engaged in the informal sector in Thailand (52.6 percent), while in Malaysia and Philippines it was relatively lower at 31.1 percent and 43.4 percent respectively. Singapore’s informal sector is small, and therefore only 13.1 percent of the labour force was engaged in the informal sector. In the other countries especially Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar the rate exceeds 65%.