Despite Declining Rates, Fertility Level in the Philippines Remains Among Highest in Southeast and Central Asia

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Wednesday, February 10, 1999

Results from the 1998 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) confirm that while national fertility rates are declining, at an average of 3.7 children per woman,  they are still considerably higher than the rates prevailing in neighboring countries. Women in Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and India have fewer than 3.5 children during their reproductive life. 

NDHS results reveal that there may be several reasons why fertility rates in the Philippines have not fallen more rapidly.

Although contraceptive use has tripled among married women since 1968, from 15 to 47 percent, data indicate that there has been a leveling-off in recent years. This could explain why the fertility rate has only declined slightly from 4.1 to 3.7 in the last five years. Although limited in recent years, the decline has been gradual since the 1960's and can be attributed, in part, to an increase in contraceptive use. 

Although contraceptive use has risen, the use of traditional contraceptive methods continues to account for about 40 percent of overall use. In fact, current data show that there has been an increase in the use of traditional methods and a decline in the proportion using female sterilization since 1993. Despite the decline in the latter, female sterilization remains the most widely used method, followed by the pill.

The 1998 NDHS data also indicate that roughly 40 percent of contraceptive users in the Philippines stop using a method within 12 months of starting, almost one-third of whom stop because of an unwanted pregnancy.

The mean ideal number of children is 3.2 among all women and 3.5 among married women, identical to the figures found in 1993. This may be another reason fertility has not fallen more rapidly. 

Significant differences in fertility levels by region still exist. Rural women give birth to almost two children more than urban women. While the total fertility rate in urban areas declined by about 15 percent over the last five years (from 3.5 to 3.0), the rate among rural women barely declined at all (from 4.8 to 4.7). Consequently, the large differential between urban and rural fertility levels continues to widen.

Finally, it is interesting to note that fertility rates would be even higher if it were not for a pattern of late marriage and childbearing. The median age at first marriage is 22 years and the median age at first birth is 23 years, considerably higher than in most other countries. 

The 1998 NDHS is a nationally-representative survey of 13,983 women age 15-49 and was designed to provide information on levels and trends in fertility, family planning knowledge and use, infant and child mortality, and maternal and child health. This information is intended to assist policy makers and program managers in evaluating and designing programs and strategies for improving health and family planning services in the country. It was implemented by the National Statistics Office in collaboration with the Department of Health. (DOH) Macro International Inc. of Calverton, Maryland provided technical assistance to the project, while financial assistance was provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and DOH. Fieldwork was carried out between March and May 1998.