Malaysia : Society


Population density (per sq. km): 


Life expectancy: 
75 years

29,717,000 (2013); 80 per cent of people live in Peninsular Malaysia, 73 per cent in urban areas and nine per cent in urban agglomerations of more than one million people; growth 2.1 per cent p.a. 1990–2013; birth rate 18 per 1,000 people (37 in 1970); life expectancy 75 years (61 in 1970).

The society is multiracial with an estimated 53 per cent Malays, 25 per cent Chinese, 11 per cent indigenous peoples and ten per cent Indians. In Sarawak, the main indigenous peoples – collectively known in that state as the Dayaks – are the Iban, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu (with the Melanau being early settlers); and in Sabah, the Kadazan-Dusun, Bajau and Murut. Other ethnic groups in Malaysia include Europeans and Eurasians.


The national language is Malay (Bahasa Malaysia), but English is widely spoken. Other languages include various Chinese dialects, Tamil and indigenous languages such as Iban and Kadazan.


Muslims 61 per cent, Buddhists 20 per cent, Christians nine per cent and Hindus six per cent (2010 census). Islam is the official religion; freedom of worship is guaranteed under the constitution.


Public spending on health was two per cent of GDP in 2012. The entire population uses an improved drinking water source and 96 per cent have access to adequate sanitation facilities (2012). There are 32 medical schools in Malaysia (2014). Infant mortality was seven per 1,000 live births in 2013 (73 in 1960).


Public spending on education was 5.9 per cent of GDP in 2011. There are six years of compulsory education starting at the age of six. Primary school comprises six years and secondary seven, with cycles of three and four years. Some 99 per cent of pupils complete primary school (2009). The school year starts in January and comprises two terms.

The tertiary sector comprises 20 public universities, 22 polytechnics, 37 community colleges, and many private universities and colleges, located throughout the country (2013). The longest-established universities are the University of Malaya (Kuala Lumpur, 1905) and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia in Skudai (Johor, 1904 as the Technical School, becoming a university in 1972). Open and distance education is provided by the Open University Malaysia, which was established as a private university by a consortium of 11 public universities in 2000. The female–male ratio for gross enrolment in tertiary education is 1.30:1 (2010). Literacy among people aged 15–24 is 98 per cent (2010).

Malaysia hosted the 17th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers in Kuala Lumpur in June 2009, which marked 50 years since the first conference was held in Oxford in the UK in 1959. Commonwealth Education Ministers meet every three years to discuss issues of mutual concern and interest.


All newspapers in Malaysia must renew their publication licences annually. English-language dailies include New Straits Times, The Star, The Sun, Malay Mail and Business Times. Malaysiakini is an online news service.

Public broadcaster Radio Television Malaysia operates two television channels and many radio stations, in Malay, Tamil, Chinese and/or English. There are several commercial TV networks and a number of private radio stations.

Some 95 per cent of households have TV sets (2006). There are 232 personal computers per 1,000 people (2006).


Country code 60; internet domain ‘.my’. Public phones are widely available. Mobile coverage is generally good. There are internet cafés in most towns, and many hotels have high- speed internet access.

For every 1,000 people there are 153 landlines, 1,447 mobile phone subscriptions and 670 internet users (2013).

Public holidays: 

New Year’s Day (in most but not all states), Labour Day (1 May), King’s Birthday (first Saturday in June), National Day (31 August), Malaysia Day (16 September), Christmas Day, and some local state holidays. Flower festivals are held in most states during a week in mid-July. For most states the weekend comprises a half-day on Saturday plus Sunday, but in Kelantan, Perlis and Terengganu half-day Thursday plus Friday.

Religious and other festivals whose dates vary from year to year include Chinese New Year (two days in most states), Prophet’s Birthday, Wesak Day (Buddha Purnima, April/May), Hari Raya Puasa (Eid al-Fitr/end of Ramadan, two days), Hari Raya Qurban (Eid al- Adha/Feast of the Sacrifice), Deepavali (Diwali, October/November, except Labuan and Sarawak) and Awal Muharam (Islamic New Year).