Bagong Simula sa Bayan ni Juan

Breaking News

For other news and information, scroll the links found on the sidebar. Links to other relevant sites and media blogs are located on the lower right portion. - RAFS76

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Poor Have Bigger Families: A Matter of Choice or Circumstance

by Dr. Romulo A. Virola 1
Secretary General, NSCB

Many of us have friends who yearn to have apos. But not everyone is blessed with those little rascals and cutie pies to pamper. Some rich couples have waited so long, despite many trips to fertility specialists here and abroad. On the other hand, when one goes to slum areas in Metro Manila, one sees hordes of happy children playfully chasing each other, completely oblivious to the impoverished environment that encumbers their young minds.

As the powerful Catholic Church opposes nontraditional methods of contraception, population management in the Philippines has certainly been a big challenge. Available data from the 1990, 1995 and 2000 censuses show that the Philippine population grew annually by 2.32% between 1990 and 1995, 2.36 % between 1995 and 2000 and 2.34% between 1990 and 2000.Based on the 2000 Census, population projections2 put our growth rate at 1.97% between 2006 and 2007 and at 1.95% between 2007 and 2008, with the midyear 2008 population projected at 90,457,200 equivalent to a population density of 266 per square kilometer and an average population size of 2,154 per barangay. The decreasing population growth rate is due to the fact that the 2003 National Demographic and Health Survey in the Philippines shows a steady decline in fertility over the last three decades, from 6 children per woman in 1970 to 3.5 children per woman in 2001.3

Relatedly, statistics from various sources (Table 1) show that the population growth rate of the Philippines is above the ASEAN average of 1.5% and is higher than Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam but lower than the 6 other ASEAN countries, including Singapore which is now promoting childbirth among couples. Notwithstanding decreases in fertility in the past, the Total Fertility Rate for the Philippines continues to be the highest among the five original ASEAN members. Our 2005 population density of 282 per sq. kilometer is topped only by the 6336 of Singapore. On the other hand, the Philippines has the lowest GDP per capita in US Dollars4 among the 5 original ASEAN countries and some attribute our economic underdevelopment to overpopulation.

The relationship between poverty and population growth has of course been probed by many researchers. In this connection, we wrote a paper entitled “Population and Poverty Nexus: Does Family Size Matter?”5 for the 10th National Convention on Statistics held on 1-2 October last year. Using data from the Family Income and Expenditures Surveys of the National Statistics Office, the paper dwelt on the differentials in the socio-economic situation of Filipino families by family size.

Here are some findings:

Per capita income, per capita expenditure and per capita savings decrease as family size increases. Thus, the bigger the family, the less money there is available to buy basic needs. This is true for the Philippines in general as well as separately for Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

Table 2 shows that average sized-households of 4-6 members enjoy nearly close to 1 ½ times as much per capita income and expenditure as households with more than ten members.

In the last ten years, as family size increases, poverty worsens. Poverty measures like poverty incidence, poverty gap, severity of poverty, mean vulnerability and vulnerability incidence all increase with family size (Tables 3.1 and 3.2). For example, in 2003 the poverty incidence among families with at least 7 members is higher than 40%, compared to less than 20% among families with size no more than 4.

Between 1997 and 20006, the reduction in poverty from 28.1% to 27.5% came mainly from the smaller families. But between 2000 and 2003 when poverty incidence went down further to 24.4%, there was poverty reduction even among the larger families. This could mean that the first to benefit from poverty reduction are the smaller families.

On the average, poor families are larger than non-poor families by more than one member ( 5.87 versus 4.34 in 2003). Specifically, 21 out of every 100 poor families had at least 7 members in 2003 compared to only 6 among the nonpoor. (Table 4)

Members of large families are less likely to reach college (Figure 1). Indeed, this should be cause for concern for government and civil society – less access to education among larger and poorer families gives them very little options and makes it viciously difficult for them to escape from poverty ever!

Per capita expenditures on education, medical needs and even recreation generally go down with increases in family size. ( Figures 2.1 to 2.3).

There is hope for the future, though. Consistent with declining population growth rates, FIES data show that the population of larger families is on the downtrend. Between 2000 and 2003 the number of families with sizes 1 to 3 and 4 to 6 increased annually by 10% and 3.5%, respectively while that of families with sizes 7 to 10 and more than 10 decreased by 2.7% and 5.5%, respectively.(Table 2)

In addition, data from the 2003 National Demographic and Health Survey conducted by the National Statistics Office show that the mean ideal number of children is largest for women belonging to the lowest economic status, ranging from 3.5 for the lowest quintile7 to 2.7 for the highest quintile. (Table 5). Not surprisingly, the mean ideal number of children is also largest for women with the least education: from 4.6 for women with no education to 2.8 for women with at least college education. It is worth noting too that the mean ideal number of children is smallest for women in the NCR (2.6), Central Luzon (2.8) and CALABARZON (2.8); it is largest for women from ARMM (4.7), CAR (3.4), MIMAROPA (3.2) and Eastern Visayas (3.2). And of course, NCR, Central Luzon and CALABARZON are the regions with the three lowest poverty incidence while ARMM and MIMAROPA have the 2nd and 5th highest poverty incidence in 20038.

Despite the advocacy efforts of the Commission on Population, the Philippine population will be increasing at the rate of 200 per hour in the Year of the Rat. Surely, there is improvement in our population management but obviously, there are other factors that come into play when couples decide on childbearing. And so why do the poor have bigger families? Some possibilities: (1) The poor have no access to modern family planning methods. Should this be difficult for PopCom to address? (2) The poor need more children to do household chores or to help in economic activities of the family. Shouldn’t children be studying in school instead? (3)The poor are religiously guided by the Catholic Church. Does it mean that the rich do not really pray when they go to church? Susmaryosep! (4) The poor lead healthier lives. Try malunggay and ampalaya then. Also, drink plenty of water and leisurely take a healthy breakfast at home - not in the office nor in a fast food center! (5) The poor lead less stressful lives (read: the poor enjoy sex better). Workaholic couples probably find less quality time to enjoy themselves and so find it difficult to conceive. With a nagger of a biyenan to boot, how can the poor rich couples’ copulation techniques succeed? But recalling that nonrandomly selected women enjoy sex better than men9, maybe, just maybe, poor men do it better than rich men? (6) The poor are less able to resist the pangangalabit ni waswit or pag-aklay ni maybahay. Because even the poorest women desire fewer children than they actually have! Or are the innocently seductive poses of the poor far more effective than branded perfume, sculpted noses and tattooed eyebrows? (7) In vitro fertilization is subprime compared to dancing in Obando. Note that we seldom see rich childless couples hying off to Bulacan. Pride prevails, maybe? The poor - they simply swing it all out when Willie wheedles, Sayaw Darling, Sayaw Darling!

Unfortunately, there are no official statistics to indicate definitively the reason why the poor are more successful in going forth to multiply! Whether they are forced by circumstances or whether theirs is an informed choice.

But come to think of it, is overpopulation really bad when China and India10 are the envy of everybody these days? Is it not in fact partly because of their huge population of conspicuous consumers that investments are pouring in?

Perplexes my simple mind.

Nonetheless, even as it has not been established beyond reasonable doubt which between poverty and family size is the cause and which is the effect, the strong correlation between the two variables is unmistakably clear. Statistics also very convincingly point to the importance of education in addressing poverty reduction and population management. This should be more than enough information to inform our decisions.

Maybe, as a US politician says, our time for change has come! PopCom, instead of spending on condoms should probably spend a big part of its budget to promote reading as a hobby, don’t you agree?

And there should be no more debate on this one - we should invest heavily on education, particularly on science and technology. I firmly believe that education should be the focus and locus of our development agenda. Because to be able to cope with the knowledge-based economies, we need to equip ourselves with, in the words of Howard Gardner, the five minds for the future: the disciplined mind, the synthesizing mind, the creating mind, the respectful mind and the ethical mind.