Demographics of Malaysia

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Malaysia's population of 24.5 million (2002) and now 25m (2004) (of which ca. 5 mln in East Malaysia) continues to grow at a rate of 2.4% per annum; about 34% of the population is under the age of 15. Malaysia's population comprises many ethnic groups, with the politically dominant Malays comprising a plurality.

Malays are by constitutional definition, Muslims. These people, combined with indigenous peoples (e.g. Kadazandusun, Iban, Dayak, Melanau, etc., mainly concentrated in Sabah and Sarawak) are denoted 'bumiputra'. Non-Malay indigenous groups make up more than half of Sarawak's population and about 66% of Sabah's. They are divided into dozens of ethnic groups, but they share some general patterns of living and culture. Until the 20th century, most practiced traditional beliefs, but many have become Christian or Muslim. The indigenous people of Peninsular Malaysia are known as Orang Asli, which literally means "original man". The Orang Asli are culturally distinct from the Malays though some who venture out into the towns and cities have been known to become assimilated with the Malays through marriage.

The second largest ethnic group is Chinese who have historically played an important role in trade and business. Ethnic Indians make up the third largest ethnic group.

There is a small minority crudely grouped and known as the "Others" category which includes Malaysians of, inter alia, European and Middle Eastern descent. Population distribution is uneven, with some 15 million residents concentrated in the lowlands of Peninsular Malaysia, an area slightly smaller than the State of Michigan in the U.S.

There is no general consensus on the ethnic profiling of children of mixed parentage. Some choose to be identified according to paternal ethnicity while others simply think that they fall in the "Others" category. The majority choose to identify as Malay as long as either parent is Malay, mainly due to the legal definition of "Bumiputra". Children of Chinese-Indian parentage are known as Chindians, though this is not an official category in National Census Data.

Demographics of Malaysia, Data of FAO, year 2005 ; Number of inhabitants in thousands.


23,953,136 (July 2005 est.)

  • Age structure
    • 0-14 years: 33% (male 4,067,006/female 3,837,758)
    • 15-64 years: 62.4% (male 7,488,367/female 7,447,047)
    • 65 years and over: 4.6% (male 490,334/female 622,624) (2005 est.)


  • Population growth rate: 1.8% (2005 est.)
  • Birth rate: 23.07 births/1,000 population (2005 est.)
  • Death rate: 5.06 deaths/1,000 population (2005 est.)
  • Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2000 est.)
    • note: does not reflect net flow of an unknown number of illegal immigrants from other countries in the region
  • Sex ratio:
    • at birth: 1.07 male(s)/female
    • under 15 years: 1.06 male(s)/female
    • 15-64 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
    • 65 years and over: 0.79 male(s)/female
    • total population: 1.01 male(s)/female (2005 est.)
  • Infant mortality rate: 20.96 deaths/1,000 live births (2000 est.)
  • Life expectancy at birth:
    • total population: 72.24 years
    • male: 69.56 years (2002 est)
    • female:75.11 years (2002 est.)
  • Total fertility rate: 3.07 children born/woman (2005 est.)


  • Noun: Malaysian(s)
  • Adjective: Malaysian

Ethnic groups


Islam (See Islam in Malaysia), Buddhism, Judaism, Daoism, Hinduism, Christianity, Sikhism; note - in addition, Shamanism is practiced in East Malaysia


Bahasa Melayu (official), English, Chinese dialects (Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Hakka, Teochew, Hainan, Foochow), Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Thai; note - in addition, in East Malaysia several indigenous languages are spoken, the largest of which are Iban and Kadazan. The English language in use in offical correspondence and examinations is based on British English though there has been much American influence through television. However, English as spoken in Malaysia has been diverging, and is known locally as Manglish. Manglish is very similar to Singlish, the English spoken in Singapore, though the slang terms tend to be different.


  • Definition: age 15 and over can read and write
  • total population: 88.7%
  • male: 92%
  • female: 85.4% (2002)