Is More Really Merrier?

By Juan Mercado
Cebu Daily News
First Posted 13:22:00 09/26/2006

Not when youre financially strapped while kids eat you out of bed, board and breakfast, says a new analysis of data from 74 Philippine provinces.

A young population matters, asserts the new Asia Pacific Policy Center study, Population-Growth-Poverty Nexus: Evidence from the Philippines. And more is not necessarily merrier.

University of the Philippines School of Statistics research director Dennis Mapa sifts through provincial data, from 1985 to 2003, to pinpoint what boosts or crimps incomes.

In this 18-year period, most provincianos found their incomes increased, on average, a piddling 1.8%. Itll take about 38 years before average (real) income per person doubles, the study says. Most people will not experience doubling of real income in their lifetime.

Some provinces posted more than 5 percent growth. But majority have income growth comparable with the worlds poorest countries.

In 2004, Mapa and UP School of Economics Aresenio Balisacan examined incomes in 80 countries. Between 1975 and 2000, they found, the paths of ASEANs development twins Thailand and the Philippines steadily diverged.

In 1975, the Philippines population was 43 million, slightly larger than Thailands 41 million. Their economies muddled, in tandem at 2.5% plus yearly.

Head-for-head, Philippine gross domestic product then was almost twice Thailands US$805. But over the next 25 years, Filipino incomes grew only by 2.6 times, cadaverous when compared to Thailands eight times, noted Mapa.

(By 2010, Filipino per head income would top $1,800, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda says. That is still below what Thailand achieved by 2004: $2,490. And Vietnam may have overtaken us by then.)

This income gap affects the daily lives of Thais and Filipinos. Out of every 100 Filipinos, 46 scrape below the $2-a-day poverty line, UN Human Development Report reveals. Its 36 for Thais.

One reason is Thailands ongoing demographic transition the process where fewer births and fewer deaths result in slower population growth. Japan completed its demographic transition. It is ongoing in Indonesia and Vietnam.

That held down Thailands population to 63.1 million by mid-2003. In contrast, the demographic transition never got off the starting block here. No province has undergone demographic transition, notes the Population Center Foundation-backed study So Philippine population topped 81.6 million then (and 86.3 million today).

Transitions offer demographic dividends which Thailand cashed. Of every 100 students who enroll, 94 Thais reach Grade 5; only 76 Filipinos do. Skilled health personnel attend 99% of Thai child births compared to 60 here. Out of every 1,000 cell phone users, 394 were Thais and 270 Filipinos.

Had the Philippines followed Thailands population growth path, Mapa and Balisacan estimated 4.03 million Filipinos would have broken free of the poverty treadmill. This should be enough to get serious about the relationship between population and development.

In the current study, the earlier econometric model gauges the impact of population on income in 74 provinces, headcounts and household poverty. The 74 stretched from Abra in the north, to three Davaos in the south, Antique in the west to Samar in the east.

Focus of analysis were young dependents (14 years and below) with their heavy call on resources. In the provinces, 41% were youngsters compared to Thailands 35%. The model crunched other variables ranging from schooling, electricity to migration, agrarian reform and typhoons.

Among 10 provinces with the fewest dependents were Cavite, Siquijor, Bulacan and Camiguin. They were used as yardstick to determine what could have been the income growth picture with fewer dependents. Some findings:
Slicing a percentage point from dependents, reduces demand, resources, and jacks up provincial per head income by 7.5%. Provinciano incomes would have risen from P27,443 to P29,063. This would mean an increase of 6% in national average per capita income.

Camarines Norte and Sur, as well as Davao Oriental, had large clusters of young dependents. If these three had fewer dependents, Camarines Nortes income would have been P3,297 higher. It would have been P2,764 more for Camarines Sur and P2,152 for Davao Oriental.

A comparison between Mindoro Occidental and Camarines Norte reveals that about 48% of their growth differential pivoted around differences in numbers of dependents.

Under the status quo the poverty headcount in 2003 was estimated at 20.4 million Filipinos. This is over a quarter of the total population.
The low dependents yardstick, however, would increase per head income by P2,227. This would slash the poverty headcount down to 17.6 million. And 2.82 million individuals would be better off surely a large number that merits serious consideration.

Population is not the only reason for the poor performance of a majority of provinces, Mapa writes. But the tests run by the econometric model shows the dependence burden is a robust determinant of income growth.

The 2004 cross-country analysis concluded, The Philippines pays a high price for its unchecked population growth, Mapa writes. That is reiterated in the 2006 within country study.

The call is for a clear population policy backed by strong government support. Young population matters. And contrary to the cliché, more is not necessarily merrier.



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