Fewer children, more older people: What does it mean for the Philippines?

Wena Cos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 15 2022 08:55 PM

A senior citizen makes his way to a voting precinct in Baseco, Tondo, Manila on May 9, 2022. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News/file
A senior citizen makes his way to a voting precinct in Baseco, Tondo, Manila on May 9, 2022. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News/file

MANILA - Fewer children mean the government can save budget normally allotted to childcare, which can instead be used to fund programs to help increase the employability of the country's growing working-age population, the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) said on Monday. 

This, after the Philippine Statistics Authority on Friday released new data which showed that the percentage of Filipinos aged 15 and below dropped from 37 percent in 2000 to 30.7 percent in 2020.

Meanwhile, 2020 recorded twice as much seniors at 9.2 million, compared to 4.5 million Filipinos aged 60 years above in 2000. 

The new PSA data further supports that the Philippines now experiences a low fertility rate of 1.8, where more women are only averaging 1-2 children.

Joyce Mae Mendoza gave birth to her first child in June, but decided to sign up for their local government's family planning program to prevent further pregnancies. 

"'Yung asawa ko construction worker, ang ate ko sa canteen. Kaya struggle sa amin ang gastusin sa bahay, kaya mas aware kami talaga na family planning ang ano sa amin, kaya wag muna susundan si baby, siguro masundan, matagal pa, wag muna ngayon, mahirap, di namin kaya," Mendoza said. 

She and her 7 sisters witnessed how difficult it was for their parents to raise a brood of 8, and so almost all of them have limited their own children to 2. Only their eldest sister has 4 children.

Seven sisters signed up for family planning, and Joyce's youngest sister has already been told of the benefits of contraceptives. 

Joyce poses with her 7 sisters and their parents. Courtesy: Jemelyn Ann Mendoza
Joyce poses with her 7 sisters and their parents. Courtesy: Jemelyn Ann Mendoza

With fewer children, the country's working-age group now makes up 63.9 percent of the population, from 59.1 percent in 2000. 

The change in demographic provides a window of opportunity called the "demographic dividend," which can spur the country's economy when maximized. 

"Ang gobyerno na gumagastos sa paanakan, sa dagdag na eskuwelahan taun-taon. Magkakaroon ng savings kapag bumababa ang batang populasyon, 'yung savings na magegenerate pwede ilagay sa serbisyong pangkalusugan, edukasyon, at pati na rin sa pagtaas ng employability ng populasyon," POPCOM Executive Director and Undersecretary Juan Antonio Perez III said. 

However, Perez said various government agencies must work together to make the most of the demographic dividend. 

"This could prove to be a boon for the country if they become effective workers, or a lost generation if they are not employed or are underemployed, which will create a socioeconomic burden for a smaller, employed population," POPCOM said in a press statement.

"All the agencies of the government that can contribute to greater employability of the population," Perez told ABS-CBN News. 

"We hope this rise in economy will allow us to employ more women, kasi nakikita namin around 50% lang ng women ang employed, and we need to increase that, and yung youth, the greatest unemployment in the country is in the youth," he added.

Economic growth must also be spread geographically, to prevent Filipinos needing to migrate to Metro Manila to secure better-paying jobs. Migration to cities incurs more cost, Perez explained, which ultimately offsets what would have been better income for workers. 

Perez also hopes that the investment in the education system pays off, to catch up and solve the learning poverty and poor education system experienced by the country. 

But he clarified that education programs to ensure the employability of more Filipinos also must also start as early as when they are in the womb.

"'Yung intervention for education starts in the first 1,000 days of the child, kasama ang pagbubuntis ng nanay. Habang lumalaki 'yung bata ay di sila bansot at mapayat... they [will] have all the opportunity to take advantage of the education system, and that begins at pregnancy," Perez explained. 

The country must also prepare for the growing older population. Savings from having fewer children may be offset by healthcare care costs for the growing senior citizen population. 

"'Yung 9.2 million ngayon tataas pa yan, to around 15-20 million in 10 years time, so we have to prepare for those additional costs. Ang inaasahan namin... mag-create tayo ng programs para maprevent ang mga sakit o disability among older persons," Perez said. 

While the downward trend of childbirth is promising now, POPCOM does not see the country's population aging. 

January 2022 showed birth rates back to pre-pandemic levels at 147,000 live births. 2019 PSA data recorded 146,841 live births January of that year. 

"Mukhang bumabalik tayo sa bilang ng nanganganak pre-COVID, pero ang assurance natin na di masyadong lolobo ang populasyon is that at the same time during COVID dumami ang nagfa-family planning. Lumaki man muli ang bilang ng nanganganak, it will be more manageable," Perez said. 

At present, 7.6 million women are served with contraceptive care by their respective local government units, a number which POPCOM sees growing up to 9 million, after PSA data showed that a record high of 27.8 million women of reproductive age in 2020.