Our Young Population
The Philippines is known for its young and productive labor force, but recent data suggest the country may also join its Asian neighbors with large graying population in the coming years.
Although we are still decades away from the problem besetting other Asian economies such as Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore and Thailand with large elderly population, we should take advantage of our still relatively young labor force to boost productivity and achieve demographic dividend before it is too late.
The Asian Development Bank estimates that by 2050, one in four people in Asia and the Pacific will be over 60 years old and that the number of persons with ages over 60 would triple between 2010 and 2050 to reach nearly 1.3 billion people.
The Philippines has always been identified as one of the countries with the youngest mean age in the world at 25 years, compared with Japan’s 48 years or the United States’ 38 years. Recent data suggest the trend may change in the coming years.
Per the Philippine Statistics Authority, the Philippines is now in a “demographic transition” because of its declining level of fertility from 2.7 children per woman in 2017 to 1.9 in 2022. The number of registered live births in the country fell to 1.36 million in 2021 from 1.53 million in 2020 and 1.79 million in 2012.
The trend suggests that despite our large number of men and women in marriage age today, many choose to stay single. Our current fertility rate of 1.9 children per woman is now below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman, which is needed to replenish the population in the years to come.
The Commission on Population had noted that the Philippine “population pyramid” was constricting at the bottom and increasing at the top, as the population of senior citizens doubled in the last 20 years. This is because the population now has a lower level of fertility, as evidenced by the decline in numbers of children under five years old.
The structural change in mean age could be a boon for the country if the young population becomes effective workers. They can turn into a lost generation, however, if they are not employed or are underemployed, according to POPCOM.
To sustain the stability of our pension system, the labor force should be bigger than the number of retirees or pensioners. Per PSA data, our aging index—the percentage of persons aged 60 years and over per 100 persons under the age of 15 years—increased 4.2 points from 23.4 in 2015 to 27.6 in 2020. This means there is one person aged 60 years and over for every four children under 15 years old.
The percentage of Filipinos under 15 dropped from 37 percent in 2000 to 30.7 percent in 2020, while Filipinos 60 years of age and older comprised 9.2 million or 8.5 percent of the population in 2020, or double the 4.5 million or 5.9 percent registered in 2000.
This is why it is crucial for the government and the private sector to harness the skills of our young labor force at this stage. We need to create more jobs for the fresh graduates so that they can join the labor force and become productive members of society and build enough savings for their needs when they grow old.
The National Economic and Development Authority agrees that to achieve the goals of the Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028, we should maximize the country’s demographic dividend by investing in lifelong learning, job creation and increasing employability.
Neda Undersecretary Rosemarie Edillon made the point during a high-level meeting for the celebration of the World Population Day to mark the global population topping the 8-billion mark.
Neda underscored the importance of eradicating poverty, promoting lifelong learning and transformative education, providing accessible healthcare, ensuring gender equality and fostering sustainable economic growth.
Because of its expanding working population, the Philippines is expected to become the top economic performer in the region this year. The Asean+3 Macroeconomic Research Office (AMRO) sees the Philippines growing 6.2 percent in 2023, faster than the performance of other Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their three major trading partners.
The government forecasts an annual growth of 6 percent to 7 percent in 2023 and 6.5 percent to 8 percent from 2024 to 2028. At this pace, the Philippines may become an upper-middle-income economy in two years and a prosperous nation by 2040, as envisioned by Ambisyon Natin 2040.
A stronger education system, meanwhile, will equip our young population for the next decades of progress. I have no doubt that we as a nation will see this through.