Bernardo M. Villegas
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Keeping Our Population Young

          At all costs we should keep the Philippine population young.  We cannot afford to fall into the same demographic trap that has ensnared most developed countries, including all our Northeast Asian neighbors and even some of our Southeast Asian partners in the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) like Singapore and Thailand.  As I extensively discussed in a former column in this newspaper entitled “A Young and Growing Population,” our country is still enjoying the “demographic sweet spot” of a young, growing and English-speaking population which is at the root of such engines of growth as OFW remittances, BPO-IT earnings, a robust domestic consumer market and the growing role of domestic tourism in spurring regional economic development.  With fifty per cent of our population falling below 24 years of age, we have all the necessary human resources on which we can invest  the increasing proportion of  the government budget on basic education and universal health and the private funds that many large conglomerates like the Ayalas, SM group, PHINMA group, the Yuchengcos, the Montinola-Reyes family and a good number of other private investors are pouring into tertiary education.  The same optimistic trend can be noticed in the investments being made by private enterprises in health care, such as the Ayalas again, the First Pacific group, the UNILAB group and an increasing number of regional players who are putting up private hospitals.

         We may kill the goose that lays the golden eggs if we listen to some alarmists who have recently filled the media with scaremongering  predictions that the Philippine population will double from its present 109 million in the coming decades if we don’t aggressively implement a population control program through the existing RH Law.  From all the population data gathered by the United Nations and other institutes monitoring world population like the Worldometers, Philippine population growth rate will start slowing down by 2050 when the fertility rate will reach replacement rate of 2.1 births per fertile woman.  It will continue to grow but it will not go much beyond 160 to 170 million by 2100, as the medium projection of the United Nations shows in its recent 2019 revisions. The declining fertility rate can be attributed to such natural causes as marriages at much later ages (late twenties for women and early thirties for men) and increased urbanization.  As Worldometers data show, the Philippine fertility rate has been systematically declining from 4.92 in 1985 to 3.02 in 2019, with or without an aggressive population control program.   The projection of the same population research group shows that, with or without a population control program, the fertility rate will continue to decline from 3.02 in 2019 to 2.21 in 2050 when the population will reach about 150 million people with a median age of 31.8, still endowing the Philippines with a relatively young population. In contrast, South Korea today has a median age of 41.3 years, putting great pressure on its pension system and making it difficult for the ageing population to receive health care from a shrinking young population.  The population density in 2050 will be at 507 persons per sq. km., still lower than the 528 persons per sq. m. of South Korea today that has a per capita income of $30,000 making it a First World Country.  Note that South Korea has much less natural resources than the Philippines.

           By 2050, it is very likely that the Philippines will already be a First World Country and can comfortably cope with a population of 150 million people.  Instead of being obsessed with population control today, we should focus on improving agricultural productivity, especially by endowing farmers with better infrastructures and other support services.  In fact, if farmers receive more attention from the Government, each farm household may actually plan to have more than two children each who can help in the various tasks of a more productive farm.  Let us learn from the experience of Thailand that unwisely promoted a very aggressive population control program in the last century and is now short of farm labor.  As I mentioned in the previous column on the same topic of the advantages of a young and growing population, an intelligent implementation of the RH Law should be very focused on urban poor households who can be convinced that in their present dire circumstances, they should responsibly limit the number of their children, especially because they can ill afford decent housing.  Such a Responsible Parenthood Plan should, however, be flexible enough to respect the cultural and religious preferences of Filipino families for children so that a contraceptive mentality does not take root even as these families move up the income ladder from low-middle income, to upper middle-income and finally high-income levels.  By being conscious of not developing a contraceptive mentality among even well-to-do families, we will avoid falling into the demographic trap that has become almost the rule among First World countries today.  By keeping the fertility rate at close to the replacement level of 2.1, we can continue to maintain a relatively young population, which after all is the ultimate resource of any society.  For comments, my email address is