Making the right decisions: UNFPA cites ‘benefits’ of declining PHL fertility rate


The Philippines has to make the right investment and policy decisions in order to reap the benefits of the declining fertility rate in the country, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

In a statement released on Tuesday, UNFPA Philippines Country Representative Leila Saiji Joudane said that the Philippines is currently at a “unique crossroads” with its changing demographics.

“As the country is undergoing a demographic transition, the country will need to work towards demographic resilience: the quality or state of being able to adapt and thrive amid demographic changes,” Joudane said.

UNFPA said demographic dividend refers to economic growth resulting from changes in a population’s structure and characteristics.

Currently, it explained that the declining fertility rate of the Philippines would result in a window of opportunity where the country has a productive population that is larger than its dependent population.

However, it said the demographic dividend is not automatic. Therefore, “the country will have to make the right investments and policy decisions in order for it to reap its benefits by investing in people throughout their life course.”

Joudane said the demographic dividend could be a “powerful force.” In order to reap its benefits, however, she said, “We need to ensure the rights of people—especially those most left behind—and provide access to quality education, health care, and employment opportunities. We need to also address gender inequality and other injustices that limit people from reaching their full potential.”

The 2022 National Demographic and Health Survey reported that the total fertility rate for 15 to 49 year-old women has declined from 2.7 children in 2017 to 1.9 children in 2022, which is now below the replacement level of 2.1. It is important to note the regional disparities in fertility rate across the country. In Manila, the total fertility rate is 1.2 while Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s total fertility rate is at 3.1.

“Downward trends in fertility rates can be viewed as either an opportunity for a country’s development or a cause of concern. But as stated in the State of the World Population [SWP] Report 2023, we should be asking the right questions. It’s not whether the fertility rate is too high or too low or if there are too many or too few people,” Joudane said.

The UN country representative underscored, “What is important is that all individuals, especially women, are equipped to thrive and exercise their basic human right to sexual and reproductive autonomy.”

For World Population Day 2023, the Commission on Population and Development (CPD), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) held a high-level meeting at Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila to share with government, development partners, private sector and civil society leaders the importance of harnessing the 8-billion strong global population and the unique opportunity that the Philippines faces.

For her part, CPD Executive Director Undersecretary Lisa Grace Bersales said, “We are keen on fulfilling the objective of optimizing demographic opportunities, as well as addressing the remaining population issues and challenges, so that we can maximize the Philippines’ socioeconomic dividend and have improved quality of life for Filipinos.”

Bersales noted that there has been a steady decline in the country’s total fertility rate since 1973 from an average of 6.0 children per woman to 1.9 last year. “The steep decline in 2022, however, needs further study to determine how much of the decline is the effect of Covid-19,” she added.

For his part, PLCPD Executive Director Romeo Dongeto said, “We have had unprecedented success in policymaking on population and human development in the last 10 years.”

“We call on lawmakers and other decision makers in the government to continue working to close the gaps in laws and policies so that the remaining challenges, including maternal deaths, are addressed and the rights of women and girls are fulfilled,” Dongeto added.

Image credits: Michael Bluschke |