Singapore's Heartbeat

​As Singapore's National Day is coming up, I decided to put together a data viz to better understand how much we have changed across the years. National Day is the time to celebrate the birth of our nation, but also a time to look back at our growth (in construction, economy, population, births and education).

All of us united, one people marching on

We've come so far together, our common destiny

Singapore forever, a nation strong and free

- Extract of lyrics from 1987 National Day Parade song "We Are Singapore"

This exercise is intriguing as I got to discover quite a lot about Singapore and figure out a feature of Tableau I have yet to try. I also want to highlight how useful government data made publicly available is for educational purposes. In this post, I describe the process of developing the dashboard and put together an analysis on some trends you see.

Capabilities of Tableau:

- Dual axis. I made use of this function for almost all the charts and used orange and blue for the variable corresponding to the left and right axis respectively.

- Pages. This allows readers to scroll (or play) through the years and look at how the numbers change year by year. Somehow the play button doesn't show up on Tableau Public. Note that under Marks, we have to select circle (instead of line or automatic) for this to work.

- Custom shapes. While it's tedious, I curated about 60 photos for each year to show the transformation of Singapore across time. Tableau makes assigning shapes easy if you named the photos in the right order to match your variable.

- Adjusting formats. I removed both the row and column divider, but decided to keep the grid lines so as to make it easier for readers to gauge the values of different measurements for different years. Also, we can click on the sides of axis to adjust the width and hide the axis label. (I subsequently made use of floating text for the axis labels.)

- Filtering worksheets on dashboard. I created three types of breakdown for resident population, namely by gender, ethnicity and age group, for which users can choose the breakdown they would like to view on the dashboard.

To do this, we have to first create a parameter and then create a calculated field. I referenced the instructions on this Tableau online help page.

I named the parameter "See Breakdown For". (I actually included "All" in the list but removed it thereafter; I followed the instructions really closely.)

I named the calculated field "Calculation1", for the lack of a better name.

Calculation1 is used as a filter. For the different views, the type of breakdown was indicated accordingly under the custom value list. How it's done for Gender and Ethnicity is shown below.

The final step includes dragging a horizontal/ vertical object (from the left hand side) to the dashboard before dragging the three sheets into the container. It works fine after fitting it to the entire view.


- While there is a variety of data made publicly available on data.gov.sg, the datasets are dispersed and in zipped folders, as shown below. Some has a relatively short period of data or reflect only the latest statistics and hence was not useful for trend analysis. I tried to minimize the inconsistencies in data availability across charts.

- The biggest challenge was trying to find old photos of Singapore, but I'm glad the Urban Redevelopment Authority did a video on Singapore's transformation.


- Land area increased 24% from 581.5 sq km to 712.4 sq km over 50 years since independence (1965- 2017). I'm actually pretty blown away by this fact, as I imagine the sheer amount of manpower and resources that goes into the land reclamation project. This change in land size definitely did not strike me as it is not obvious like how I can see new skyscrapers, buildings or highways being built all the time in different parts of Singapore. It's also interesting to note the peaks and troughs in the number of flats constructed as they are closely related to the boom and lull in property prices. Also, the number of flats follow a cyclical rather than a linear trend, where the increase in land area doesn't translate into increase in flats the same way. If the cyclical trend persists, we might see a drop in the number of flats constructed over the next couple of years, with the Singapore government implementing policies to control the inflation in flat prices.

- From 1995, the strength of the Singapore currency (pegged against USD) shows a relationship with the long-term unemployment rate. Singapore experienced the worst recession in 2002 and we can see how Singapore changed its blueprint to identify new sources of growth when exports in manufacturing, especially electronics, were hit due to weakening demand from the world's major economies. Neither did we escape the Great recession, also known as the global financial crisis in 2008, where our long term unemployment rate went up from 0.5% to 0.9% in 2009.

- The population more than doubled from 1.89 mil to 3.97 mil in 50 years (1965-2017). This explains why Singaporeans often complain about the lack of personal space. We have one of highest population density in the world (ranking third in 2018). Gender ratio is balanced and healthy since the beginning of time, with more females than males at the moment. While Chinese is the largest ethnic group in Singapore, the number of residents of other ethnicity is growing at a faster rate. It's also obvious that we have an ageing population, where the number of elderly above 60 years old is increasing and that under 20 years old is decreasing.

- The total fertility rate dropped by half in less than 15 years. This is a result of the "Stop-at-Two" campaign. The government added a gradually increasing array of disincentives penalising parents for having more than two children between 1969 and 1972, raising the per-child costs of each additional child, such as income tax deductions only given for the first two children. We can also see the craze for dragon babies where the number of live births in 1988, 2010 and 2012 spiked (we call this the "dragon year effect"). There has been many efforts to revive the fertility rate since 1986 when fertility rate falls to 1.43.

- It is interesting to note that the number of pupils enrolled in Primary 1 was more than the number of live births in the year. This could possibly be an indication of the number of foreigners. School life expectancy has increased from 12.7 to 16.2 between 2000 and 2016, reflecting the importance of education both government and society placed; Compulsory Education was implemented in Singapore in 2003.

Alternatively, the interactive Tableau dashboard can be viewed here. This visualization is an #IronViz submission for the "Health and Well-being" theme.