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PH has highest fertility rate in our region

The Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the Reproductive Health law will be a big push for the nation in overcoming a very obvious handicap for its growth. Our population-control policy though would have to be on a frantic catch-up mode, and I do hope the Court’s ruling didn’t just allow a toothless population program.

Our country’s fertility rate—or roughly the number of children a woman can bear over her lifetime—is 3.1, much higher than the 2.1, or the number required to replace both parents, and thus maintain a stable population rate. The good news is that that ratio represents  a significant decline from the 6 when martial law was declared in 1972.

The bad news though: Guess what kind of countries has such a fertility rate as ours and worse?

Mostly the poorest countries in the world: Cambodia (2.9) , Honduras, (3.1), Botswana (2.7), Guyana (2.6). In fact, the poorest region in the world, sub-Saharan Africa has an average fertility rate of 4.7. The average for the richest countries in the world is more than half of that: 1.7.

Even in just our part of the world, having high fertility rates is a feature of the poorest countries, and vice-versa. The Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia have an average rate of 2.6; those of Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea, China, and Japan average 1.5.

Figures for 2011, GDP per capita in 2005 constant US dollars

Figures for 2011, GDP per capita in 2005 constant US dollars

Reality is staring us in our faces, and we have to confront it. Countries that have crawled out of their third-world quagmire have reduced their fertility rates. We have been defaulting on this task. As a recent New York Times opinion piece (“Bye, bye, baby”, April 4): “In large, emerging economies where labor is still relatively cheap—places like Brazil, Russia, Iran, much of southern India—fertility rates have steadily fallen since the 1980s. The working-age population in China, an economic miracle over the last 35 years, may have peaked in 2012…”

Not a coincidence

That better-off nations have low fertility rates is certainly not a coincidence, with economic growth and poverty reduction both a cause and effect of fertility rates (i.e., less and women bearing children, and therefore lower rate of population growth).

Cease your theological flight, and check the reality on earth.

Ever wonder why you can afford to give such low wages to your gardener or domestic help? Because there’s just too many Filipinos. If he or she won’t accept your P4,000 wage, a hundred more would volunteer.

Ever wonder why the DPWH seems to use more laborers than machines, compared to what you see when you’re in the US? Labor is much, much cheaper than buying equipment, even if a mechanized equipment makes a laborer much productive — which means he can do more in same period of time. Expand that on a macro level, and you’d understand why the entire economy produces less than the rich countries.

Almost every time Opus Dei economist Bernardo Villegas, or most Catholic religious crusaders, rant against contraceptives and especially against the reproductive health bill, they’d be spewing the term “demographic winter.”

The term means that if nations undertake measures to empower people to decide for themselves whether they want children or not, which is what the Reproductive Health Law is all about, our population growth will decline, irreversibly, that there won’t be young people enough to work, and the Philippines will be filled with old people. Look at Japan with their old people, they say.

I don’t exactly see though Japan as a nation in crisis though, with its economy on death spiral, although admittedly it would have to address the problem of the number of senior citizens outnumbering the young working force.

I always thought the demographic-winter argument was so absurd. It is bit like arguing that we shouldn’t pursue industrialization, since it would pollute our country—“See what’s happening to Chinese cities?”

What “demographic winter? That NYT piece I quoted above very well debunks that doomsday argument.

It pointed out: “In just the past decade, the United Nations has raised its medium population projection for 2050 from 8.9 to 9.2 billion. (:Demographic-winter” proponents)  also overlook that out of 230 nations listed by the U.N., 129 of them are growing so fast that their populations will double within 70 years. Only 24 show population stabilization or contraction.”

Not irreversible

What isn’t pointed out by the demographic-winter believers is that the decline of fertility rates isn’t irreversible, as the article pointed out:

“There are, in fact, ways that low fertility can be moderated, or even reversed, over time. Indeed, this already has happened to modest degrees in some of the countries with the earliest fertility declines.

“Sweden and France were among the first European countries to experience low postwar fertility rates. Sweden’s declined to about 1.6 in the 1970s and again in the 1990s, but has since rebounded to about 1.9, possibly because of a variety of support mechanisms for young families with children. In France, where public support for young families with children has been long-term public policy, fertility rates over the past half century did not decline as much as in Sweden, and are now around two (about the same as in the United States)”

Government is not impotent when it finds that the fertility has become too low. “Part of the reason (for the rise in fertility rates in France) is that France provides subsidized day care for children, starting at 2 1/2 months. Fees are on a sliding scale based on family income, “ the article pointed out.

China is another example. With its fertility rate going down from 5 in 1970 to 1.7 in 2011, China in 2013 lifted its “one-child policy.” That it didn’t think it was moving into a demographic winter is obvious in the fact that it allowed only two children—but only if one parent is an only child.

I was struck by the article’s insight that the notion of a “demographic winter” is of the same genre as the “dark prophesies” which have littered humanity’s cultural history. The NYT article points that such predictions of doom have continued in the modern age:

“Theodore Roosevelt warned of Anglo-Saxon “race suicide” and, during the Depression, books like “Twilight of Parenthood” (1934) caught the Western public’s imagination. After the powerful (and largely unanticipated) baby boom in the West, the chorus of calamity resumed. Dire Malthusian projections of mass starvation resulting from population growth outstripping the food supply—fear-mongering briefly revived after the end of the baby boom by Paul R. Ehrlich’s 1968 book, “The Population Bomb”—were discredited. But the march of fear continued, with evocatively titled books like “The Birth Dearth” (1987) and “The Empty Cradle” (2004).”

The demographic-winter bugaboo is also the stuff of cult-movies, which means that people are very receptive to that kind of doomsday prediction. The plot of “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Children of Men,” both adopted from novels, centers on the extraordinariness of a birth in a barren society in the future.

Perhaps there lies one major reason why the Catholic Church is so against the RH bill, seeing it not only as something that would encourage widespread immoral promiscuity and abortions, but also one that would lead to a horrific demographic-winter.

The Catholic Church has been from its creation, an apocalyptic, end-of-days religion, which sees the end of the world, due to an Evil (the RH Law, in our case?), the Anti-Christ who  would fool men. The thrust of Christ’s teachings after all was that the “kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” He obviously didn’t mean centuries later, but “at hand,” and more specifically in another biblical verse, within the apostles’ lifetimes.

But before the kingdom makes its grand entrance, the destruction and end-of-days scenario. The demographic winter is part of this habitual Catholic mindset. Dr. Villegas in this case isn’t the prophet of boom, but of doom. We’re lucky we have a Supreme Court that didn’t believe him.