Bernardo M. Villegas
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Lessons from China’s Population Policy

           The Government in China has announced that families can now have a second child in an effort to avoid the Japanese problem:  ageing populations and not enough babies. We can now expect the fertility rate in China to increase in the coming years.  Right?  I am afraid many demographic scholars disagree.  In a recent article in the International New York Times, Steven Erlanger (November 11, 2015) commented, “State policies not enough to halt slide in birthrates.”   An associate professor of social policy at Oxford University, Stuart Gietel-Basten typifies the skepticism about this new two-child policy:  “We’ve seen reforms in the past where some couples are eligible to have a second child and often they don’t…”   There seems to be a consensus among experts that the new policy of allowing two children would have only limited effect.  Part of the reason is that generations of Chinese have grown up with the experience of small families.  Furthermore, China’s social and housing structure does not favor large families.

          There is enough evidence in most European countries and such Asian economies as Japan and Singapore that once an anti-birth outlook is inculcated among the women in particular, state policies that purport to raise fertility rates are generally ineffective.  This is a warning to countries like the Philippines that are still enjoying a young and growing population to be extremely careful not to instill an anti-birth or contraceptive bias among married couples, especially among the women.  No matter how subtly it may be put, one can discern in the existing RH Law in the Philippines a subliminal message:  fewer children are better than more.  This message is reinforced by the usual challenges in an urbanizing society such as the high costs of housing and education, the desire of mothers-to-be to excel in their respective professions, the general atmosphere of a consumerist life-style that equates happiness with having more rather than being more.

          The Philippines is currently benefitting from its demographic sweet spot, which it can enjoy for at least the next thirty years, the time it needs to eradicate poverty and transition from middle-income to a developed economy.  Whether we like it or not, numerous developed countries from all over the world who are suffering from an irreversible demographic winter will compete with our domestic economy for the most desirable overseas workers in the world today:  the OFWs.  Even as we succeed in significantly reducing mass poverty, millions of Filipinos and Filipinas will still opt to work abroad for most of their working lives.  They have a competitive advantage over other overseas workers because they speak English, have very attractive social skills and are very trainable and teachable.  We cannot afford to send the wrong message to our young couples that less is better than more in deciding the size of the family.  We may find ourselves facing sooner than later the problem that Thailand already faces, i.e. a shortage of almost a million workers for both their industrial and agricultural sectors because of an overly aggressive birth control policy in the last century.  We have also witnessed how the arrows of Abenomics have done nothing to get Japan out of a long-term trend towards recession. Japan is once again experiencing a recession.

          Another recent development that should motivate our leaders to send the message to married couples that more is better than fewer in deciding on family size is reflected in a remark a visiting European uttered in a conversation.  As the recent terrorist attacks in France provoked widespread alarm about the Islamization of many European countries, my friend said that many countries in Europe will increasingly turn to the Philippines to replace their Muslim immigrants.  Having resided in Europe for a couple of years and closely observing the smooth integration of Filipinos into any European culture, this clear possibility must be another important factor we have to consider in deciding  what our  attitude towards birth rates in the Philippines should be in the coming decades.  I hope that the next Administration will re-examine the exiting RH Law and remove any trace of an anti-birth or contraceptive bias it may still have.  The law should really focus on reproductive health which is very compatible with telling married couples that they should be open to having many more than two children.

     In a lighter vein, I am waiting for the “tamang panahon” (the right moment) when Alden Richard will ask Maine Mendoza: “When we get married, how many children do you want to have?”  True to her being a traditional Filipina, Maine will surely answer “five or more!”  Mabuhay kayo, Yaya-Dub! For comments, my email address is