As world population surpasses 8B, Philippines achieves 5-decade low for fertility

Camille Elemia
As world population surpasses 8B, Philippines achieves 5-decade low for fertility Filipino baby Vinice Mabansag, pictured with her mother, was honored symbolically with other babies as the world’s 8 billionth person, Nov. 15, 2022.
Handout photo/Philippine Commission on Population and Development

As the world welcomed its 8 billionth person this month, the Philippines saw its fertility rate dip to its lowest in five decades, a development that experts said could increase economic productivity and basic services in the country.

Baby Vinice Mabansag was honored on Nov. 15 after her birth at a public hospital in Manila. She was among infants chosen worldwide to symbolically mark the arrival of the globe’s 8 billionth person, with the United Nations projecting that the human race would reach the population milestone that day.

The announcement came as recent data showed that the Philippines’ fertility rate has been continuously declining – with the steepest drop recorded during the past five years.

The fertility rate in the Philippines, one of only two predominantly Catholic nations in Asia, has been falling since Congress enacted legislation in 2012 to provide universal and free access for all citizens to nearly all modern contraceptives at government health centers.

The Philippines historically has had higher birth rates than many of its neighbors in Southeast Asia, but it now boasts the region’s third lowest fertility rate after Singapore and Thailand.

According to preliminary results from a national demographic and health survey by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the country’s fertility rate declined from 2.7 children per woman of reproductive age in 2017 to 1.9 babies per woman in 2022.

“Generally, fertility has been declining in all age groups since 2008. Specifically, fertility rates for women aged 20 to 24 years steadily declined from 163 births per 1,000 women in 2008 to 84 births per 1,000 women in 2022. This was also observed in women aged 25 to 44 years,” the authority said in a statement on Nov. 13.

By comparison, the birth rate was about six children per woman in the Southeast Asian nation in the 1970s. The politically influential Catholic Church frowns on artificial family planning methods and has often clashed with state-funded population-control programs.

Still, a recent U.N. projection suggests that the global population could grow to about 8.5 billion in 2030 and to 9.7 billion in 2050, with more than half of the projected increase concentrated in just eight countries, including the Philippines.

The report, which did not detail how this would occur, listed the other countries as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Tanzania.

Women living in rural areas had a slightly higher fertility rate of 2.2 children per woman, compared to those living in urban areas with 1.7 children per woman, the PSA said. The agency said the country’s 1.9 birthrate had fallen below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman, or the rate at which births sustain population levels.

“Despite expected increase in the fertility of Filipino women because of impeded access to family planning services during lockdowns and quarantine protocols. … The Philippines was able to register recent population statistics unheard of in years, with fertility numbers plummeting to less than two offspring per woman,” the Philippine Commission on Population and Development (PopCom) said in a statement to journalists.

The Philippines’ latest fertility rate is comparable to the 1.8 rate in upper-middle income countries, according to Lolito Tacardon, PopCom’s executive director.

“This can be considered as a ‘breakthrough’ for the country’s programs on population and development as well as family planning, which were instituted more than five decades ago,” Tacardon said.

Boost in services, productivity

Experts said this development could allow the Philippines to boost delivery of basic services, including health and education, and to increase productivity.

Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine in Seattle, said the Philippines could soon enjoy the benefits of a demographic divide.

He explained it as a “period in time when fertility drops to below replacement and you get more young and working age people” in the population, spurring economic growth.

“The Philippines will be getting a benefit from that young population bulge in 10 or 15 years,” he told BenarNews.

Tacardon, meanwhile, predicted that the Philippines would “continue to see a robust labor force at over 63 percent of the population until 2030 or 2035.”

“Focus should now be on ensuring that the quality and capacity of the country’s human resources are enhanced. At the household level, lower fertility also means greater opportunity for personal development of couples and individuals, which can redound to more savings and investments,” he said.

However, this presents challenges to the government, according to Murray

“There are questions if health systems are going to be resourced to handle the demands, particularly around reproductive health that women in those age groups may have,” Murray said.

“It’s more of a question about: Can the government keep up with providing basic educational and health infrastructure?”

Climate change and population

The globe’s changing climate could also pose a challenge. 

Murray said countries with warmer climates could see an increase in mortality.

“There is a very strong interaction possible between population growth and climate change. As temperature goes up, places that are already reasonably warm are going to see increases in mortality, particularly cardiovascular diseases,” Murray said.

“Certainly the harm will come in the places that are already warmer, and we’re going to be on that spectrum where the risk goes up with each increase, each day that people live at particularly high temperature.”

In the Philippines, the “biggest effect” from climate change is migration, he said.

Around the world, millions are displaced yearly because of extreme climate events, the U.N. said.

“We do expect that because of extreme weather events and potential sea-level rise, potentially some places will just not be pleasant to live in or will be uninhabitable. We expect there will be considerable within-country and between-country migration,” Murray told BenarNews.

“Planning for and thinking carefully about which communities will be most likely affected … will give some insight into where migration may become a real issue,” he said.


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