There is an ongoing debate raging at the moment over population policy in the developing world, particularly in Catholic countries like the Philippines. There is growing opposition in the said country towards the introduction of sex education in public schools and the provision of family planning services through the public health system. Below are a few charts that should put the debate into perspective.
The first chart represents comparative statistics of average incomes between the Philippines and its neighbor Thailand (predominantly Buddhist) over nearly fifty years from 1960 up to 2008. Both nations began with relatively the same levels of income in 1960 with the Philippines enjoying a slight advantage, but by 2008, incomes in Thailand were more than double that of the Philippines. What could account for this divergence?
The second chart shows the population growth rates of both countries over the same period. The two nations had nearly identical growth rates of 3% in the early '60s. Their growth rates then began to diverge with Thailand rapidly decelerating to 0.6 of a percent in 1998. The Philippine population growth rate was also declining, but at a slower rate. Only in 2000 was it able to drop to 2% which Thailand had already breached back in 1985.
One might argue that the direction of causality is not fully established. Higher income countries by and large tend to have lower birth rates not vice versa (although recently, that argument has itself collapsed, as I highlighted in this previous blog entry). At least in this instance, one can clearly see that the slowing of the population boom in Thailand preceded its economic expansion.
Other variables might also have intervened such as industrial policies for instance, or different financial and political conditions; but, by and large, one can argue the case that had the Philippines followed the same population policy as its neighbor, it might have grown just as rapidly and reduced the incidence of poverty as a consequence. Taken in this light, one might frame the debate over sex education and family planning more meaningfully.