Editorial: Philippines’ low birth rates in 2020, 2021

·3 min read

Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) chief Juan Perez III has said that “whenever there is an economic downturn, births go down.” The country’s economy has been battered by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic and aggravated by Russia’s unprovoked, still ongoing war in Ukraine, which has sent prices of oil in the global market to the sky, affecting prices of goods.

The PSA has reported low birth rates in 2020 and 2021, the pandemic years. From a population growth of P1.5 million, the country’s birth rate took about a 40 percent dive as the population grew by only 900,000. Then in 2021, the PSA recorded a population growth of only 400,000, which is about a 55 percent decrease from the 2020 growth.

According to the Commission on Population and Development, the 2021 population growth is the lowest increase in the Philippine population since 1946, or after the Second World War.

Perez noted that there were decreases in marriages in 2020 and 2021; and there were fewer births (only 1.8 children were born per woman in 2020) “because avoidance of pregnancy, unplanned pregnancies, unintended pregnancies were the aim of most women,” who must have also felt the pandemic’s pangs and that raising more children could be disastrous in financial terms.

It is clear as day that the pandemic and its malevolent ripple effects on the economy have contributed to the low birth rates in the past two years. Perez also attributed the snail-paced population increase in 2020 and 2021 to the government’s family planning program.

The PSA has assured the public that the downtrend in birth rates is not a bad thing, with Perez saying it is just a “demographic shift” or demographic transition, a theory proposed in 1929 by American demographer Warren Thompson. There are five stages in demographic transition, and the third stage of Thompson’s theory could explain the low birth rates in the Philippines. In stage three, there’s a decline in birth rates and the possible factors include increase in wages, access to contraceptive methods, urbanization, improved status of women, and other social changes. The once-in-a-generation Covid-19 pandemic has certainly created social changes—“the Great Resignation,” work-from-home setup, rise of digital financial transactions.

After the population levels off, stage four kicks in. This a period marked by low birth and death rates. In stage five, the total population is still high but starting to decline due to birth rate falling below the death rate. This means the population is graying and the elderly will dominate (just like in Japan).

The successive birth rate declines in the Philippines are not yet a clear indication that the country is already on stage five. It is still early to tell. At present, the archipelagic country has nearly 110 million living, breathing Filipinos.

What does the decrease of birth rates in 2020 and 2021 tell everyone? One could be that Filipinos know how to adjust and adapt, especially amid a global health crisis.

The government could ring the alarm bells if the birth rate falls below the death rate in the succeeding years.

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