The Philippines is not yet reaping the benefits of having a young population because of persistently high fertility rates in the country, contrary to recent claims that the economy is already in the demographic “sweet spot,” a new National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) study revealed.
Spearheaded by NEDA and supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the report titled “Demographic Sweet Spot and Dividend in the Philippines:
The Window of Opportunity is Closing Fast,” showed a high probability the Philippines will miss the rare opportunity of additional economic growth.
The study said the Philippines has so far failed to achieve a similar demographic transition as most of its Southeast and East Asian neighbors have.
UNFPA said studies that investigated the impact of the demographic transition on economic growth have shown that it accounted for a sizeable portion or about one-third of economic growth experienced by East Asia’s economic “tigers” during the 1965 to 1995.
The UN body described the demographic transition as a change from a situation of high fertility and high mortality rates to one of low fertility and low mortality. A country undergoing a demographic transition experiences sizeable changes in the age distribution of its population. These changes, coupled with the right policies, affect economic growth.
The concept was first described by American demographer Frank W. Notestein in the mid-20th century, according to the UNFPA. The “demographic sweet spot,” according to the transition model, is the point at which the birth rate begins to decline and the rate of population growth begins to slow, while the majority of the population is of working age.
In the case of the Philippines, the study noted that while fertility rates have dropped slowly, the population growth rate for the country has remained high compared to its neighbors in Asia.
With the fertility rate of 3 in 2013, the Philippines tied with Laos for having the highest fertility rate in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and South Korea. Singapore and South Korea recorded the lowest fertility rate of 1.2 among the countries.
“Due to this slow reduction in the fertility rate, the Philippines may not be able to benefit fully from the demographic dividend, and the demographic window of opportunity is closing fast for the country,” the report said.
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said the report’s conclusion contradicted claims, most notably by banking giant HSBC, that the Philippines is expected to ride favorable demographics to become the 16th largest economy in the world by 2050.
“The talk among businessmen is that we have already reach the ‘demographic sweet spot,’ and that is why we should not worry about a fast-growing, young, and dependent population, because this going to lead to faster economic growth, even surpassing Thailand and comparing closely to Russia by 2050. I think that was the projection of HSBC about three years ago. That is an erroneous projection or misconception of what demographic sweet spot is,” he said.
HSBC economists cited the ‘demographic sweet spot’ in their forecasts for the Philippine economy in 2012, and again in 2014.
Pernia noted the report identified that one particular hurdle for the Philippines is the high rate of teen pregnancies, as reflected by the data that among 15- to 19-year-old Filipino girls, about 1 in 10 has already given birth.
Another UNFPA study also showed that in the Asia-Pacific region, adolescent fertility rates have gone down in all countries with available data except in the Philippines.
Other data also reveals that one of three Filipino youth has engaged in early sex and 78 percent of first sexual engagement was unprotected against the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
The study said the Philippines may still benefit from its large population of young people, but ensuring access to quality education and youth-friendly health services for teenage girls to prepare them as they enter the working age should be prioritized to realize the demographic dividend.
“Adolescent girls currently make up 10 percent of the Philippines’ 100 million population. They hold enormous opportunity to transform the future of the Philippines, but this can only happen if they have the right information and skills, are healthy, and empowered to make informed decisions in life,” said Klaus Beck, country representative of UNFPA.
The study also emphasized that full implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law would play a critical role by helping Filipinos realize their wish for smaller families, which is needed if a demographic dividend is to be realized.
“With the right policies and investments in human capital, countries can empower young people to drive economic and social development and boost per-capita incomes,” Beck added.
UNFPA said critical youth investments needed to reap a demographic dividend are those that protect rights including reproductive rights, improve health, including sexual and reproductive health, and provide skills and knowledge to build young people’s capabilities and agency. These investments can also accelerate fertility declines, which can in turn accelerate the demographic transition.
Sharing the same view, Pernia underscored the importance of implementing the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law to advance the demographic transition.
“The RPRH law is essentially a voluntary policy of informed choice about which specific contraceptive to use, or how many children to have,” he said.
However, he said the law has limitations because of the temporary restraining orders issued by the Supreme Court addressed to the Department of Health and Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which restrained them from “(1) granting any and all pending applications for registration and/or recertification for reproductive products and supplies including contraceptive drugs and devices; and (2) procuring, selling, distributing, dispensing or administering, advertising and promoting the hormonal contraceptive ”Implanon” and “Implanon NXT.”
“This is the problem with our judiciary, they take their sweet time. They don’t realize how serious it is to have a TRO like this because everyone knows by now that 11women die of pregnancy and birth related causes every day. This could be prevented if the TRO was not in effect,” he said.
In terms of investment, Pernia said the government should invest in the quality of basic education, like sexuality education.
“The problem with sexuality education is it’s a turn off for religious societies, like the Philippines, but I believe there is nothing ungodly about it. In fact, it’s very godly, because I think God does not want couples to have more children than they can afford.
Because otherwise children will be no good in terms of their lives,” he concluded.