Bernardo M. Villegas
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Ensuring Supply of Productive Manpower

           A recurring phrase in the very positive assessments of the Philippine economy today coming from foreign pundits refers to the “young, growing, and English-speaking” population of the Philippines.  In a global economy where both developed and emerging markets are already suffering from the curse of the “demographic winter”, the Philippines is singled out as one of the remaining countries where rapid ageing is not yet a problem.  Our median age of about 23 years is one of the lowest in the Asia Pacific region.  That is  why the Philippines is a favorite site of investors in the booming Business Process Outsourcing and Information Technology and is beginning to play a major role in the relocation of manufacturing enterprises from Japan, South Korea and China.

          There can be a fly in the ointment, though, if we allow the families in the Philippines to disintegrate as they have in many of the developed nations.  A recent document published by the American College of Pediatricians (May 2014) has sent alarm signals about how those entering the labor force in the next twenty years may be psychologically handicapped if we allow marriages in the Philippines to be destroyed by a divorce law.  The statistics speak for themselves.  In the U.S. in 1970, 84% of children lived with their married biologic parents, whereas by 2009, only 60% did so.  In 2009, only 29% of African-American children lived with their married biologic parents, while 50% were living in single-mother homes.  Furthermore, 58% of Hispanic children lived with married biologic parents, while 25% were living in single-mother homes.  Importantly, a recent Harvard study on single parent families revealed that the most prominent factor preventing many children from upward mobility is living with a single parent.

          Furthermore, the number of couples who choose to cohabit rather than marry has increased dramatically, with 4.9 million cohabiting couples in 2002, versus just 500,000 in 1970.  Half of the unmarried births are to mothers who are in cohabitating relationships, and seven in 10 children of cohabitating couples will experience parental separation.  The dissolution rate of cohabitating couples is four times higher than married couples who did not cohabitate before marriage.  Since 1988, the incidence of divorce has continued to climb, and according to the 2009 American Community Survey, only 45.8% of children reach age 17 while still living with their biologic parents who were married before or around the time of the child’s birth.  The majority of divorces affect younger children since 72% of divorces occur during the first 14 years of marriage.  Because a high percentage of divorced adults remarry, and 40% of these remarriages also end in divorce, children may be subjected to multiple family realignments.

          The study clearly shows that divorce has tended to diminish a child’s future competence in all areas of life, including family relationships, education, emotional well-being, and future earning power.  Two large meta-analyses, one reported in 1991 and the other reported ten years later in 2001, showed that “children with divorced parents continued to score significantly lower on measures of academic achievement, conduct, psychological adjustment, self-concept, and social relations.”  The research demonstrates that, when a child experiences parental divorce, there are significant losses that result:  (1)  The child may lose time with each parent; (2)  The child may lose economic security; (3) The child may lose emotional security; (4)  The child may have decreased social and psychological maturation; (5)  The child may change his or her outlook on sexual behavior; (6) The child may lose his/her religious faith and practice;  (7) The child may lose cognitive and academic stimulation; and (8) The child may be less physically healthy; (9) The child may have a higher risk of emotional distress.

          Of direct relevance to human resource or people management professionals, the following are findings about children in divorced homes: (1)  Children in divorced homes have less language stimulation; (2)  Children of divorced parents are more likely to have lower GPAs and be asked to repeat a year of school; (3)  A study of 11 industrialized countries showed that children living in two-parent families had higher math and science scores; (4) Children in single-mother families were twice as likely to have been absent from school for 11 or more days in the past year due to illness or injury (6%) compared with children in two-parent families (3%);  (5) Children of married parents attained higher income levels as adults; and (6) Children living with married parents are less likely to be abused or neglected.  In one study, the relative risk that children from a single parent family would be physically abused or neglected more than doubled.

          The quality of Philippine manpower in the future may be seriously damaged if we allow the legalization of divorce.  According to a study of almost one million children in Sweden, children growing up with single parents were more than twice as likely to experience a serious psychiatric disorder, commit or attempt suicide, or develop an alcohol addiction.  Children of single parents are twice as likely to have emotional and behavioral problems (8%) versus 4% for children from two-parent households.  Another study showed that children living with one biological parent were between 3 and 8 times as likely as children living with two biological parents to have experienced neighborhood violence, caregiver violence, or caregiver incarceration or to have lived with a caregiver with mental illness or an alcohol or drug problem.

          The American College of Pediatricians arrived at the following conclusion:  “There are clearly negative long-term consequences of divorce—children, parents, and society all suffer.  Wallertein’s long-term study show that many children never have full ‘recovery’ as each special event, holiday, or celebration reminds the child of his/her loss.  Given these tremendous costs borne by all individuals affected by divorce, as well as the  costs to society, it is the responsibility of physicians— especially pediatricians, who care for children in the context of their families—to advocate for public health policies that promote marriage and decrease the likelihood of divorce.  In the Philippine context, the wisest move is nip in the bud any attempt in Philippine Congress to pass a law legalizing divorce.  We do not want future generations of Filipino workers whose productivity will be impaired because of all sorts of mental and psychological infirmities of children directly resulting from divorce.   For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.