Liveability in Numbers

Income and Distribution

Of the five districts in Penang, the southwest (BD), north Seberang Perai (SPU) and central Seberang Perai (SPT) districts experienced higher income inequality in 2019. The northeast district (TL) saw the biggest improvement in its Gini coefficient,1 dropping from its highest at 0.377 in 2016 to the second-lowest at 0.356 in 2019 (Figure 1). This is explained by the increase in medium-income households and the corresponding income share in the district.

Meanwhile, the highest Gini coefficient was found in SPT (0.367) which was also the biggest increase in 2019. As a district with the second-highest Gini coefficient, income inequality in BD also widened despite having the least income inequality in 2016.

According to Figure 2, incidence of relative poverty2 has increased across all districts, except for the South Seberang Perai (SPS) district. Despite an increase of 0.7% from 2016, TL remained the district with the lowest relative poverty rate. But BD saw the biggest increase with a growth of more than 50%, from 5.1% in 2016 to 10.8% in 2019. Meanwhile, SPS saw its share of households living in relative poverty decreasing, dropping from 17.2% in 2016 to 15.3% in 2019.

Read also: Covid-19 in Penang: Part Two

Housing Affordability

Among all districts, BD recorded the highest average house price of RM454,251 per unit in 2019, surpassing that in TL (RM436,751). However, to better gauge the housing affordability of an area, house price-to-income ratio (PIR) is a common metric for assessment, with a ratio greater than 3 indicating unaffordable housing.3

With an average monthly household income of RM8,393, BD had the highest PIR of 4.51, followed by TL (4.29) and SPS (3.97) (Table 1).4


Unemployment rates fell across all districts between 2018 and 2019 (Figure 3). At 1.5%, BD had one of the lowest rates of all districts in 2019. TL had the highest at nearly 2.5%, followed by SPU. However, the different phases of the Movement Control Order imposed as part of the Covid-19 containment measures may exacerbate the unemployment rate in all districts.

Social Indicators


Penang’s internet access is estimated to have doubled over the span of five years. In 2014 BD was the second-leading district in terms of subscription, behind TL, at 53.6%. Internet subscription is now widespread and all districts enjoy almost full coverage (96%) (Figure 4). Between 2014 and 2019, BD saw an upward trend of mobile phone subscriptions (Figure 5). Ninety-nine percent of residents in that district currently own a subscription. This is slightly lower than the subscription coverage in SPS (99.3%).


Across all districts, primary student-teacher ratio increased in 2019 (Figure 6), reflecting the fact that the increase in students has outpaced that of teachers. SPS had the lowest ratio in 2019 – 11.7 students for every teacher. TL had the highest ratio – 12.8 students for every teacher. While BD had the lowest ratio in 2016, its growth was also the largest, indicating that the area has the greatest need for more primary classes.

Public Safety

Penang Island has comparatively lower crime and road accident fatality rates, as compared to the Mainland. Specifically, BD, along with SPU, recorded the lowest crime rate in 2019 at 2.17 crime cases per 1,000 population, and the second-lowest road accident fatality rate at 0.79 deaths per 100 cases (Figure 7 and Figure 8).

Public Health

The public health services in BD had the lowest number of hospital beds at 3.5 and the third-lowest number of health amenities at 1.04 for every 10,000 population. Nonetheless, the district had 7.14 health amenities per 10,000 population overall – the highest number among all districts. This is mainly contributed by the private sector (Table 2). As for the environment, the air monitoring station located in Balik Pulau (BD) registered the highest percentage of days with good air quality (Air Pollution Index from 0-50)5 at 33.4% in 2018, followed by USM (TL) (14.8%), Perai (SPT) (10.7%) and Seberang Jaya (SPT) (3%).6 In terms of garbage collection services, nearly all households in BD (99%) were provided the service; 80% had the service at their living quarters while 20% had theirs more than 100m away from their living quarters (Table 3).

1The Gini coefficient is a measure of income equality within a community. It ranges from 0 to 1, with 0 indicating complete equality in income, and 1 indicating perfect inequality where one person has received all the income within the community and the rest receiving none.
2 Unlike the incidence of absolute poverty which determines the poverty rate of households by measuring income against the minimum required for basic essentials (the poverty line), the incidence of relative poverty accounts for households earning below 50% of the comparable monthly median income. The definition of relative poverty is not limited to income levels, as it includes the lack of access to general living standards enjoyed by majority of the population.
3 According to Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey 2020, the house price-to-income ratio is calculated by dividing the median house price by median annual household income. A ratio of 3 and below indicates affordable; 3.1-4.0 indicates moderately unaffordable; 4.1-5.0 indicates seriously unaffordable; and 5.1 and above indicates severely unaffordable.
4 Due to the unavailability of the median house price at district level, the average house price and average household income were used to estimate the affordability.
5 The air quality is measured by Air Pollution Index (API). Index from 0-50 indicates good air quality, 51-100 moderate, 101-200 unhealthy, 201-300 very unhealthy, and greater than 300 hazardous.
6 Retrieved from Compendium of Environment Statistics 2019, Department of Statistics Malaysia.

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