(August 2003) Still reaping the repercussions of the Asian financial crisis, Indonesia has in recent years struggled with numerous difficulties ranging from social unrest, political instability, and ethnic and sectarian violence to a decline in access to health care and other public services. More recent events, including the bomb blast in Jakarta — which followed other deadly bombings in 2002 — have increased fears that the sprawling archipelago may be facing new political and population pressures.

Once heralded by the World Bank as an economic model, Southeast Asia’s largest population witnessed improvements in health, education, and other sectors before the late 1990s. However, many of those gains were threatened by the 1997-1998 financial crisis, which was characterized by a free-falling currency, sharp inflation, increased poverty and unemployment, and a decline in families’ access to health care and other basic services. World Bank estimates show that the proportion of the poor more than doubled between 1996 and 1999, from roughly 11 percent of the population to about 27 percent.

With a population of some 221 million, Indonesia is the world’s fourth most-populous nation after China, India, and the United States. UN estimates show that the country grows by almost 3 million people each year, with much of the growth concentrated in urban areas that are already struggling to provide social services. Fertility, which UN estimates placed at more than five children per woman in the early 1960s, has been declining. Fertility is now close to three children per woman, according to the 2003 World Population Data Sheet of the Population Reference Bureau (PRB).

Though the population is overwhelmingly Muslim, three provinces have other religious majorities: Hindu (Bali), Christian (West Papua or Irian Jaya), and Christian (East Nusatenggara). With 300 ethnic groups and almost as many languages, the country comprises more than 13,000 islands that straddle the equator between mainland Southeast Asia and Australia. The population is unevenly distributed over these islands, with the majority of people living in Java, Madura, and Bali. In recent times, conflict and violence in many of the country’s provinces have displaced hundreds of thousands of people. An estimated 600,000 to 1 million Indonesians were displaced throughout the archipelago at the end of 2002, according to the U.S. Committee for Refugees.

Indonesia experienced some improvements in health care standards between the 1960s and the 1990s, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). For example, life expectancy at birth increased from roughly 43 years in the early 1960s to well over 60 years in the early 1990s. A person born in Indonesia today could expect to live roughly 68 years. The number of infants who die before age 1 also declined over the period, from 166 per 1,000 births in the early 1960s to less than 50 today.

Despite some improvements in health, there continues to be insufficient care for pregnant women. The country has one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in Southeast Asia, with an estimated 470 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. As PRB’s 2002 Women of Our World data sheet shows, this compares with 9 deaths for every 100,000 live births in Singapore and 39 in Malaysia. The 1997 Indonesia Demographic and Health Survey found that four in five births took place at home and that 57 percent of births in the five years before the survey were assisted by nonmedical staff, mainly by traditional birth attendants and, to a much lesser extent, by relatives.

High government debt, an outgrowth of the economic crisis, coupled with an uncertain political climate, poses serious challenges in the bid to protect health and other public services. Health spending between 1996 and 1998 fell below regional standards, according to the Indonesia Human Development Report 2001, a UNDP report. Public spending on health in Indonesia amounted to just 0.6 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), compared with 2.5 percent of GDP in South Korea and 1.7 percent in the Philippines and Thailand.


Yvette Collymore is a senior editor at PRB. 


Indonesia Data
Population Mid-2003 220,500,000
Population 2025 (projected) 281,900,000
Population 2050 (projected) 315,600,000
Infant Mortality Rate (infant deaths per 1,000 live births) 46
Total Fertility Rate (average number of children born to a woman during her lifetime) 2.6
Population Under Age 15 (%) 31
Population Over Age 65 (%) 5
Life Expectancy at Birth, Both Sexes (years) 68
Life Expectancy at Birth, Males (years) 66
Life Expectancy at Birth, Females (years) 70
Urban Population (%) 40
Population Ages 15-49 with HIV/AIDS at End of 2001 (%) 0.1
Contraceptive Use Among Married Women 15-49, All Methods (%) 57
Contraceptive Use Among Married Women 15-49, Modern Methods (%) 55
GNI PPP per Capita, 2001 (US$) $2,830
Maternal Deaths per 100,000 Live Births 470
Abortion Policy, 2000 Prohibited, or permitted only to save a woman’s life.
Women Among Population 15-49 with HIV/AIDS (%) 25
Literacy Rate (ages 15+), 2000, Female (%) 82
Literacy Rate (ages 15+), 2000, Male (%) 92
Secondary School Enrollment, 1993-1997, Female (%) 48
Secondary School Enrollment, 1993-1997, Male (%) 55
Labor Force Participation (ages 15-64), 1980, Female (%) 46
Labor Force Participation (ages 15-64), 2000, Female (%) 58
Labor Force Participation (ages 15-64), 2000, Male (%) 85
Women as Percent of Parliament, Oct. 2001 8

Sources: Carl Haub, 2003 World Population Data Sheet (Washington, DC: PRB, 2003); Justine Sass and Lori Ashford, Women of Our World 2002 (Washington, DC: PRB, 2002).