[ANALYSIS] Is the PH ready for below replacement fertility?

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Filipino women of childbearing age (15-49) will have 1.9 children throughout their childbearing years, a reduction of almost one birth from the TFR of 3 ,0 in 2013. This is the result of the 2022 National Demographic and Health Survey. The TFR is a measure of fertility that indicates the average number of children a woman would have at the fertility rates current by age.

With the recent NDHS result on the level of fertility, the Philippines has now joined the list of Asian countries that have below replacement fertility rates: Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Replacement fertility is equivalent to a TFR of 2.1, the average number of children per woman at which a population is renewed exactly from one generation to another, in the absence of migration.

Since the first demographic survey began to estimate the TFR in the country in 1973, demographers have followed the evolution of fertility. From a TFR of 6.0 in 1973, there has been a gradual decline in fertility over the years. However, compared to neighboring countries in Asia, the decline in fertility in the Philippines can be described as steady but slow. The 2001 UN medium variant projection, for example, estimated that all East Asian countries would reach replacement level or below replacement level fertility by 2010. Indonesia and Vietnam were also to have a TFR of 2.1 by 2010, while India, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Myanmar by 2020. But by 2002, Vietnam’s TFR was already at 1 .9, while Indonesia’s was at 2.4 in 2017, lower than the Philippines’ TFR of 2.7 during the same period.

Figure 1. TFR trend: 1973-2022

From a population program perspective, below replacement fertility is a welcome development. But it also raises important questions: What drove the steep decline between 2017 and 2022, and what are the implications of below-replacement fertility for the country?

Fertility rates have been declining globally for years, and more often than not, this is accompanied by sustained economic growth. This has been the experience of countries like South Korea, Thailand and Singapore. Along with improved socioeconomic status, there are other determinants of fertility, for example, contraceptive use, timing of marriage formation, and couple’s fertility preference.

In the case of the Philippines, continuous efforts have been made to implement programs and policies to address population growth. The passing of the Reproductive Health Act 10 years ago was seen as a major step in empowering women to make their own decisions about their reproductive health. The law guarantees universal and free access to almost all modern contraceptive methods in public health centers. It also mandates the inclusion of reproductive health in the basic education curriculum. But the achievement of below replacement level fertility has undoubtedly been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdown and mobility restrictions have limited opportunities for socialization, heightened feelings of uncertainty, as well as fear of the health consequences of infection. Thus, couples can decide to delay the arrival of a child in periods of great uncertainty.

2021

Overall, the decline in fertility is found above all among women under 25 years of age. The age-specific fertility rate (ASFR) among 15-19 year olds in 2022 was almost half of the 2017 ASFR (47-25 year olds), while among the 20-24 age group, ASFR has decreased by 36%.

Figure 2. Trend in age-specific fertility rates, Philippines: 1973-2022

In addition, the number of births registered from the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics system showed a downward trend over a 10-year period: 2012-2021 (Table 1), but the strongest decline was observed in the years 2019-20 and 2020. -21. Marriage registration, on the other hand, showed an inconsistent trend. There was a 44% reduction in the number of registered marriages in the first year of the pandemic but rebounded in the second, with a 48% increase.

The sustained decline in the number of births despite the increase in the number of registered marriages between 2020-2021 highlights the difficulty of establishing a causal link between fertility and nuptiality. The growing share of unmarried women’s fertility, mainly adolescent girls, provides evidence that dissociates nuptiality, gender and fertility in the country.

Table 1. Number of registered births and marriages, 2012-2021. Source: PSA, Vital Statistics: 2012-2021

It will take several years to see the effects of below-replacement fertility. Due to demographic dynamics, the population will continue to grow in the years to come despite low fertility. It also remains to be seen whether the low fertility rate will continue. If the drop in births was due to the pandemic, what happens when the pandemic is finally over? Will we see a return to high fertility, which implies that couples were only postponing births?

Fertility is the main driver of demographic change in the Philippines; thus, the need to understand the implications of changing women’s fertility behavior. If the trend of low fertility continues for several generations, we will have a population with a lower proportion of young people and an increasing proportion of old people. With fewer births each year, the working-age population will have fewer young people to support, resulting in a demographic window of opportunity for rapid economic growth if the right social and economic policies are developed. Structural change by age can accelerate economic growth, as observed in Thailand, whose significant decline in fertility was a crucial first step towards realizing the economic benefits of a demographic dividend.

If low fertility is not sustained and rebounds to pre-pandemic levels, we could miss the expected gains from a demographic dividend. The challenge for the Marcos administration is to leverage this gain to advance its development agenda.

Demographic trends are important considerations in developing policies and programs on investments in human capital, social protection, health services and overall socio-economic development. And as we deal with the reality of declining fertility and changing demographic age structure, we must also learn from the experiences of other countries that have grappled with the implications of very low fertility. . – Rappler.com

Elma P. Laguna is deputy. Professor of Demography at the Institute of Population, Faculty of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines-Diliman.

Maria Midea M. Kabamalan is Professor of Demography at the Institute of Population, Faculty of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines-Diliman.

Grace T. Cruz is Professor of Demography and Director of the Population Institute, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines-Diliman.

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