Fertility Rates and Death Rates

I wish to make a couple of comments on an article that was published in the Inquirer May 2, 2014 entitled “Fertility Rate Down but Mothers Dying”.

The article began with these assertions: “The good news on total fertility rate (TFR) in the Philippines is that it has been cut by more than half in a span of five decades. The bad news is that it remains the highest among the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). Another bad news is the substantial increase in the number of Filipino mothers dying during childbirth in the last decade—a problem a senior economic manager attributed to the country’s high fertility rate. From 7.2 births per woman in 1960, the country’s total fertility rate declined to 3.1 births in 2010, according to a November 2012 report prepared by Jose Ramon Albert, then secretary general of the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB).”

There seems to me a flaw in logic in the assumption behind the third statement; the same assumption can be found behind some of the arguments of the proponents of the Reproductive Health (RH) Law.

The assumption is this: the rate of deaths of mothers giving birth has a correlation with the fertility rate. This idea can be gleaned from the third statement: “Another bad news is the substantial increase in the number of Filipino mothers dying during childbirth… a problem… attributed to the country’s high fertility rate.” The assumed relation is that high fertility rates mean high death rates of mothers. By contrast, it seems to be assumed that lower fertility rates mean lower death rates of mothers.

But if we study things carefully we can realize that this assumption flies in the face of the evidence provided by the article. It says that fertility rates have decreased from 7.2 births per woman in 1960 to 3.1 births in 2010. If the assumption mentioned were correct then we must expect that if the fertility rates have declined then the death rates must also decline. But no, the death rates have registered a “substantial increase”.

Any honest person will reasonably conclude that mothers’ death rates do not correlate with fertility rates in the hypothesized manner. A person who will still claim that the correlation exists must be making this conclusion based on a prejudice or faulty thinking. The evidence simply does not support the hypothesis.

I wish to make another point. The article tags the “highest” birth rate of Filipino mothers of 3.1 births per woman as “bad news”. If the authors of the article had a conversation with Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, they might find out that he would not agree that a low birth rate of 1.3 for Singapore is good news. He has been encouraging Singaporeans to have babies and the government has even been giving couples baby perks. And yet their birth rate is not increasing; their desired birth rate is 2.1, the replacement rate which they are far from achieving.

Note that the birth rates of the Philippines have gone down even without the RH Law’s implementation. Simple logic would lead one to infer that the contraceptive provisions of the law were not needed to bring down the birth rate. It seems to me though that the contraceptive provisions of the RH Law are aimed at lowering the birth rates of the poor people. This gives the RH Law apparently eugenic motives. I would that we rather implement the provisions of the RH Law that promote care for the health of mothers.

To conclude, I would say that a “high” birth rate for the Philippines, at this point in our history, is good news. Children are our nation’s future and hope. If we do away with them, we might end up digging our own graves.

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