Today, we have a population of about 28.25 million people (Bank Negara Malaysia, 2011). Then there are 12.6 million labour force, 12.2 million employed, and 0.42 million unemployed (Department of Statistics, 2011). When we make a comparison between unemployed and total number of labour force, we can say that the unemployment rate in Malaysia is about 3.4%. To measure active population, Labour Force Survey (LFS) by Department of Statistics uses the age limit of 15 to 64 years as the definition of labour force. The economically active population comprises those employed and unemployed, whereas those who are inactive is classified as outside the labour force.
The population size influences by initial number of population, birth rate, death rate, and migration. We also know that the number of children people have is very much a function of two variables: costs and choices. Costs depend not only on how much food and shelter you give to your children, but also on the time of parents. In most societies, most of that time is the mother’s time (even now in our society father also possible to be a homemaker), which has a value.
As we have become richer, and as women have become better educated are working outside the home more, the cost to them of spending time on children has risen. As these costs have risen, families are deterred from having as many children as they had in the past. They spend much of their time at workplace, and less time at home.
The second variable that economists recognize is that families are making choices about the quality of children’s lives in term of their education, training, and health. In modern economies, this quality component has become very important because the emphasis in modern economies is on knowledge, technology, and skills. But there is a tradeoff. If you spend more on each child’s skills, education, and training, you make children more costly and you are likely to have fewer children.
But we know that, it is not just the size of population that matters but the quality of that population it’s in term of level of education, talent and skills is more important. In other word, the quality of our workforce is also a matter of concern. Only 25 % of Malaysia's workforce is composed of highly skilled workers, compared to higher proportions in Singapore, Taiwan and Korea. The percentage of our population with tertiary education is lower than in other advanced developing countries.
Singapore and Taiwan, with a smaller size, but with a better trained and skilled population, has a per capita income much bigger than ours. Indonesia, with a large population and large land area, has a per capita income much lower, although it is now progressing well. The management of resources is therefore of critical importance. If we mismanage our resources, then a large population will lead us to a serious decline in our standard of living. It is the function of governments to ensure growth, and increasing prosperity through good governance, innovation and creativity.
The government has come out with an excellent plan to grow the economy - the New Economic Model and the Economic Transformation Programme. We must successfully implement this, not only to sustain our standard of living but to enhance it. All Malaysians should support the government's effort in this.
Surely a large market, through a larger population, will help and enable our industries to become larger and more efficient producers. But what will be critical is not just the size of the population but its capacity for innovation and creativity. This will depend on our education system to produce the skills and talent for a fast growing and modernizing economy. We need workers that can do activity such as product innovation and process innovation with their multidiscipline expertise.