Sunday, March 28, 2010

Population trends: lessons for RP

By Fr. Gregory D. Gaston, SThD
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 19:47:00 01/02/2010

REMEMBER the population bomb? The new threat to the planet is not too many people but too few,” Michael Meyer reports on “Birth Dearth” (in Newsweek, Sept. 27, 2004). He continues: “The world’s population will continue to grow – from today’s 6.4 billion to around 9 billion in 2050. But after that, it will go sharply into decline. Indeed, a phenomenon that we’re destined to learn much more about – depopulation – has already begun in a number of countries.”

In general, a total fertility rate (TFR or children per woman) of 2.1 is necessary to replace a country’s population. The UN Population Division (UNPD) states, “The primary consequence of fertility decline, especially if combined with increases in life expectancy, is population ageing. It adds, “Globally, the number of persons aged 60 years or over is expected almost to triple” between 2005 and 2050.

Population controllers never highlight population ageing and decline. In countries where these phenomena happen today, a huge number of elderly have to be supported by proportionally fewer working people. The pension fund and the social security system are overburdened. The local labor force grow older and less efficient, hence they need immigrants.

Having fewer and older people means a smaller market, especially for certain sectors such as baby food, clothing, vaccines and certain other medicines, sports facilities, office equipment, education, etc. –products and services the elderly employ less. More countries will soon need more coffins than cradles.

Below replacement levels

A population with an above-replacement TFR (that is, with 2.1 or more children per woman) will have a pyramid-shaped “population pyramid.” In this scenario, the economically active persons support their children and a small group of elderly dependents.

If a country’s TFR goes below replacement level, the wide bases of the pyramid are replaced by narrower bases each year, reflecting the fewer children born each year.

Continued below-replacement TFR will lead to a diamond-shaped figure.

By this time the economically active persons will have to support a relatively few children and a rapidly increasing number of elderly.

This condition contributes to the present economic boom of rich countries, since the workers will get to keep a big share of their earnings, instead of spending them for the needs of children and the elderly.

This is the situation that population controllers want us to foresee: They explain that the Philippines will become well-off when it reaches this stage. But they never explain what will happen beyond this stage, which, to say the least, is a disaster.

If the country’s TFR remains below replacement levels, the diamond-shaped population pyramid will become shaped like a toy top.

If the trend continues, the country will end up having an inverted population pyramid, with an extremely aged and shrinking population.

Babies needed

Because of an elderly and forthcoming collapsing population, Dr. Joseph Chamie, former UNPD director, said to the Population Association of America that governments were “adopting polices... to increase their child bearing,” including restricting or limiting contraception [and] abortion, match making, conducting public-relation campaigns for marriage

, childbearing and parenthood, and giving out cash bonus for the birth of a child.

They have not succeeded so far. But if ever they do succeed in increasing birthrates, their population “pyramid” will acquire the shape of an hourglass.

In this scenario, their workers will have to care not only for their big population of elderly dependents, but also for the increasingly big batches of children they want to have, the young dependents.

This will mean a double economic burden for them. Hence, these countries will soon be in a serious predicament: Continued economic woes and the nation’s extinction if they don’t produce more children and doubled economic woes if they do.

They hope to return to the scenario they were in 50 years ago: To have many babies who would eventually replace the work force, and in turn care for both the young and the elderly dependents. That is, they seek a normal population pyramid, shaped like a real pyramid, with a wide base and a narrow tip, and not like a diamond, a toy top, an inverted pyramid, or an hourglass.

In short, they want to revert to the type of pyramid that the Philippines still has – a pyramid that it will soon lose, as its TFR continues to decline. Within two decades, our country will fall into the same trap where ageing countries find themselves in and want to escape from right now, a TFR below the 2.1 replacement level.


The UNPD figures indicate that it is not an exaggeration to say that as early as now the Philippine TFR is already dangerously low.

Whereas in the early 1970s the average Filipina had six children, today she has around three, and in another 20 years, only two.

Shortly after 2020, the Philippine TFR will sink below its specific replacement level of around 2.29 (higher than the usual 2.1 because of higher infant mortality and other factors).

It will be too late and useless to wait for the TFR to go below replacement level and then try to raise it up again. The only solution would be to try to prevent its further decline today – an effort that will probably not succeed within a few decades, but will hopefully at least lessen the impact of an ageing population. If approved, the bills promoting population control will certainly plunge the Philippine TFR further down.

The Philippine population pyramids of 2000, 2025 and 2050 (from the US Census Bureau website) reflect the TFR’s downward trend.

We can no longer sit back, relax and think of “just crossing the bridge when we get there,” because we have already reached the bridge. At the rate its TFR is declining, the Philippines will, within 20 years, join the other countries that have fallen into the river. It will be a point of no return, or at least, of extremely difficult return. Why go there in the first place?

It has to be stressed that the Philippine TFR will probably reach below replacement levels within two decades even without additional population control efforts.

Filipinos now marry later in life, marital unions have become less stable, emigration to urban centers makes rearing children more difficult, emigration to other countries is on the rise (physically subtracting members from the country, especially those of reproductive age, and reducing the number of children those left behind beget), decisions on how to spend money have left having more children out, and the mass media greatly influence spouses to have few children.

Population control

Countries that were already rich 30 to 40 years ago when their TFRs started to decline and are now ageing encounter extreme difficulty in solving their economic problems.

Their efforts to encourage their citizens to produce more children have not yielded acceptable results after a decade. They depend on immigration to maintain their population growth.

The Philippines is not a rich country and may or may not be rich within 50 years. How will it support its aging population? Will it also invite workers from other countries to replace its dwindling workforce? Will it also pay mothers for each child born? Impossible.

Even if it becomes rich by then, it will have to face the same problems rich countries face now and will have to tell the people to raise more children.

Graphically speaking, we cannot afford to have in the future a population pyramid like the rich countries’ and then, like them, wish to regain the population pyramid we have now.

Population control has to be ruled out as a quick-fix solution to poverty. This in no way means telling the people to have as many children as they can, to uncontrollably “go forth and multiply” (as some erroneously claim the Church teaches).

Rather, parents should be guided and supported to attain the number of children they can generously and responsibly raise and educate. For some spouses, this means having one child or two and for others, 5, 10, 12, or in some cases, 15 or even more. If they could really manage to properly care for them, why not?

Neither the government nor the Church may compel, instruct or encourage spouses to raise a specified number of children, as what population control programs definitely try to do. Rather, the government and the Church should form and guide the people to reflect on their actual circumstances and to freely, generously and responsibly decide whether or not to have another child for the time being or indefinitely.

Human capital

Any economic, social or political policy proposed to solve poverty should take advantage of, rather than suppress, our abundant human resources. As Dr. Gary Becker, 1992 Nobel Prize winner in economic science, says, “human capital,” which refers to the skills, education, health and training of individuals, comprises around 80 percent of the wealth of advanced countries and hence “can be neglected [only] at a country’s peril.”

Any solution to poverty, furthermore, has to take into account, support and promote our closely knit family ties, the time and dedication parents give to their children, the care children and extended families give to the elderly whom we truly love, the moral principles and holistic training children receive from their parents and all the other values that the Filipino family has until now maintained, in spite of the pressures exerted upon it by secularism.

The contribution to the national economy of these services and values that find their dynamism within the family is impossible to calculate, but they provide a key – the most important one – to good governance in the public and private sectors, a condition sine qua non to attain stability in society, reach economic development and diminish poverty.

(Gregory Gaston is a priest of the Archdiocese of Manila, professor and former dean of the Graduate School of Theology of San Carlos Seminary in Makati. He holds a doctorate in sacred theology. He presented this topic at the Society of Catholic Social Scientists’ annual meeting at the University of Mississippi School of Law on Oct. 31, 2009. This article is excerpted from “Familia et Vita” (2007), the Quarterly Review of the Pontifical Council for the Family [full text at].)