, February 14, 2005 (STAR) STAR SCIENCE By Mercedes B. Concepcion, Ph.D. (First of two parts) According to the 2000 Census, the enumerated population of the Philippines reached 76,504,077, making it the largest population in Southeast Asia and 13th in the world. An average 1.58 million Filipinos were added yearly during the 1990s. Death rates have fallen slowly in the recent past, while birth rates have remained relatively high. Consequently, the corresponding average intercensal growth rate in the eighties was 2.35 percent and 2.34 percent in the nineties. If this rate were to continue in the future, the number of Filipinos will double in less than 30 years.

The long history of high birth rates and, to a lesser extent, the more recent declines in infant and child mortality have resulted in a young population. According to the 2000 census, at least 37 percent of Filipinos are below age 15. In contrast, 24 percent of the Republic of Korea’s population and 15 percent of the Japanese population are under 15 years. On the other hand, Bangladesh and Pakistan have 39 and 42 percent of their populations, respectively, in the 0-14 age group.

The contraction in the proportion of those aged 0-4 (13.6 percent) and the almost identical proportion in those aged 5-9 (13.7 percent) suggest a major demographic shift in the population age structure. Some 3.8 percent of the population enumerated in the 2000 census is aged 65 or older, leaving 59.2 percent in the working ages of 15-64. If each person of working age is economically active, the dependency ratio of 69 implies that every 100 productive people would be supporting about 63 young dependents and around six elderly dependents.

The youthful age structure imposes an economic burden because a significantly greater share of development resources must cover the immediate requirements of the young. For example, education commanded 33.8 percent of the 2003 national budget, up from 31.2 percent in 2002. The large percentage of children generates a built-in momentum for future population growth. Even if fertility falls to the "replacement" level of a little over two children per woman, births would still exceed deaths and population would continue to grow for at least 50 years.

Fertility – Data from the 2003 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) indicate that the average number of children born to a woman by the time she reaches age 50 (total fertility rate) had dropped from 6.0 children in 1970 to 3.5 in 2002. Most of the reduction has taken place among women aged 25-34. Moving the current fertility level to the 2.1 replacement level will demand a relatively similar magnitude of fertility reduction over a nearly equal duration with a lower starting-off point.

One of the challenges facing the country during the next 20 years is the expected growth in the number of women of reproductive age, 15-49, from 19.6 million in 2000 to an expected 28.4 million in 2020. If the Philippine government is to provide at least the same level of reproductive health services to women in 2020 that it provides now, its budget for these services will definitely have to rise correspondingly in the future.

The increasing proportion of high-risk births and the unmet demand for family planning services suggest a need for attaching high priority to reproductive health. The 2003 NDHS reported that nearly three in four (72.9 percent) women gave birth between the ages of 20 and 34. The rest (27.1 percent) bore their children in the high-risk age groups below 20 and above 34.

Mortality – Deaths of infants under age one are still relatively high, averaging around 29 per 1,000 live births. In contrast, infant mortality rates in the United States, Canada and Western Europe usually range from five to seven deaths per 1,000 births. About four percent of all Filipino children die before reaching their fifth birthday. The chief causes of death among infants and young children are communicable diseases and diarrhea with consequent dehydration and malnutrition. Improved diets, better sanitary practices and health care could reduce death rates further.

Notable improvements in general health conditions and survival prospects of Filipinos were noted during the period 1950-2000. In 1950, the expectation of life at birth was around 43 years. Currently, it is in the neighborhood of 68 years for both sexes. This steady increase since post-World War II reflects medical and health improvements. In 2000, the UN estimated the corresponding life expectancy in Thailand to be 70.2 years, while that of the Republic of Korea was 74.9 years.

Swift growth in numbers hampers improvements in health and in the delivery of health services in several ways. First, in the face of economic stagnation, it is difficult to maintain, and more so, upgrade services for the growing number of people. Second, elevated birth rates generate a sizable fraction of young children in the population – the group with the highest illness and mortality rates in developing countries and hence, with the utmost need for health services. Third, too many births as well as those that are closely spaced are linked with high rates of maternal and child mortality.

(To be concluded)

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Mercedes B. Concepcion, Ph.D., is an academician of the National Academy of Science and Technology, a member of the Commission on Population Board and a former dean of the UP Population Institute. E-mail her at concepcionmb@edsamail.com.ph.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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