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December 13, 2012 / emmanintheworld

Contraceptives’ Effect on Population

Victory after 14 years. Just a few hours ago, the House of Representatives finally approved the Reproductive Health Bill in its 2nd reading with a vote of 113-104-3.

This historic vote came after a period of amendments that featured a line-by-line analysis of all 27 pages of the RH bill. This thorough reading of the bill made some Congressmen frustrated because it seemed like the same arguments were being rehashed over and over again. For the public, it looked like the bill was stuck in limbo.Obviously, that’s not the case and the period of amendments was soon followed by the voting of the Congressmen.

During the voting, there were many who took the chance to explain the basis of their vote. Some voted ‘Yes’ because they believe that family planning is a basic right that should be enjoyed by all. Others who voted ‘Yes’ said that access to information is imperative in making informed choices. Those who voted ‘No’, on the other hand, based their decision on the teachings of the Church. Others said that the bill is unnecessary because it is redundant, wasteful, and ineffective.

One argument for the ‘No’  votes that kept on popping up in the speeches of the anti-RH Bill Congressmen caught my attention. They argued that the Philippines should not be looking at ways to reduce the population growth rate because it would have detrimental effects on the Philippine economy. They said that the effects of population control measures in the Philippines would result to the population troubles that plague countries like Japan, and Singapore.

Some developed countries are having trouble nowadays because their workforce are too old to produce at optimum levels. This tends to lead towards lower competitiveness and productivity levels which has a tendency to affect the total output of the economy. On the other hand, the Philippines’ young and booming population presents the country with a competitive advantage to take on jobs in both the domestic and international market.

With the RH Bill mandating the distribution of contraceptives, the anti-RH Bill lawmakers fear that the Philippines’ demographic advantage may come to a halt in a few years. While it’s true that measures that promote contraceptives have an effect on the demographics of the country, I’m not convinced that it causes depopulation to the effect that these Congressmen are saying.

For one thing, I haven’t seen any study nor any evidence that establishes contraceptives’ causal relationship to depopulation. Of course, the Congressmen who kept on repeating the population argument conveniently forgot to point to real studies.

Another point is that there are other factors that are more likely to affect a family’s decision to have children. To support this, I point to the literature in economics that study the theories of fertility.

One of the leading economists in this field is Gary Becker who proposed a framework called the “Microeconomics of Fertility.” He applied the principles of economics into a family’s decision to add an additional child. In order to do this, he treated children as a durable good and analyzed how the “demand” for children changes with the change in several factors. It is important to note that Becker saw it possible to analyze the demand for children because he saw not much difference in the demand factors for luxury goods and necessities.

The demand factors which Becker studied were taste, quality of children or human capital, income, and cost. The decision to have another child in the family is then analyzed using the basic demand principles.

In his study, Becker focused on developing a theory that would explain the declining fertility rates of developed countries. One of his conclusions was that there would be an increase in level of living as family income increases. That means that human capital increases because the family would be able to invest more per child with higher income. Another conclusion of his is that fertility rates increases with the increase in income.

However, he explained the paradox of high-income families having fewer children by saying that the income elasticity for quantity of children is smaller compared to that for the quality of children. That’s why families would tend to increase the quality of a child first before having another one when their income increases.

This second conclusion is contentious because, as Deussenberry and Okun said in the notes section of the paper, the evidence that Becker used to support the positive relationship of income and family size is weak. They also point to the increases in the level of living compared to income as the reason why family size is low in high-income families.

Deussenberry said that although an increase in income will enable family size to increase, this may not be the case in reality because an increase in income will also change what families think is the necessary cost of having a child is. Okun similarly argues that the “income elasticity of demand for children may well be negative, or if positive, be very low.” There is lower demand for children because of an increase in quality expenditures per child.

Becker belongs to a different school of thought in the economic theories of fertility as Deussenberry and Okun but their ideas does not point to contraceptive knowledge and use as the reason for declining fertility rates. Also, these economists point to factors like indirect costs of pregnancy (Becker), and higher investment in human capital (Deussenberry and Okun) as the reasons for the decline in fertility rates among developed nations.

That’s why it’s funny when anti-RH Bill lawmakers are saying that the government should instead divert the budget for condoms to education and job creation  because that also has the potential to lead to declining fertility rates.

To sum it up, there are many reasons to take a stand for or against the Reproductive Health Bill. However, it is very misleading to use the argument of low population growth in developed countries because other factors like income and “costs” of having a child may be more influence on this than the population control measures that they’ve adopted.



P.S. Isn’t it ironic that some anti-RH lawmakers are citing labor-intensive China as the model for economic growth when its one-child policy is one of the most famous population control measures in history?


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