Being Right

Recently came across a tweet purportedly from the account of a popular Metro museum. It alleged (citing a decades old book) that in pre-colonial Philippines: “Virginity was not a value and children were treated the same way. Unwed mothers were not shamed. Husband and wife were equal, with divorce being practiced.” Ostensibly, the point was to depict the “empowered” position of women, that is until the Spanish (i.e., Catholicism) came and ruined it all. Unfortunately, all that is simply misleading.

And irresponsible. Because if there’s any institution that should be encouraged nowadays to truly “empower” women, that would be marriage.

Follow the science. Study upon study has shown the benefits women derive from marriage: better physical and psychological health, more safety (domestic or sexual abuse predominantly happens outside the married relationship), better income (married women before childbirth were found to have 4-10% higher incomes than unmarried women), longer and happier lives, better relationship with their children (as compared to divorced parents), and — contrary to media portrayal — better sex lives.

One Philippine study (“Divorce and separation in the Philippines: Trends and correlates,” Jeofrey Abalos, 2017) points out that “Filipino women who cohabit in their first union and do not marry have higher odds of separating than those who are legally married.”

Another is particularly relevant: “Jobs, Expansion, and Development” (Paqueo, Orbeta, Lanzona, and Dulay, NEDA PIDS, 2013) talked about the “positive correlation of open unemployment with income and education.” More tellingly, they spoke of the fact that “income households headed by high school graduates is more than double that of households with only elementary education.” In short, “the rate of return to investment in education is relatively high.”

Put another way: the longer you stay in school, the higher your income and the greater the productivity, which then leads to overall national economic gain. But how can kids stay in school longer if they keep getting pregnant before they even graduate from college or reach marriageable age?

Figures indicate that teenage pregnancy in this country rose by 70% in the 10-year period between 1999 to 2009. Figures from 2010 show 206,574 teen pregnancies, with more than half of those girls below 14 years of age. Data from 2013 reveals the Philippines is the third highest when it comes to teen pregnancy in Southeast Asia, among the highest in the ASEAN region, and the only country where such a number is increasing.

More recent developments are far from comforting: the Commission on Population found that births by girls 14 years old and below increased by 7% in 2019 compared to the previous year, which also represents a nearly 300% rise from 2000.

The foregoing should be read within the context that 20% of marriages in the Philippines will be broken, with 82% of such broken marriages involving children. A World Health Organization study finds that there are 15 million solo parents in the Philippines, with 95% (or more than 14 million) of whom are women. Finally, with the steady decline in marriages in the country comes ironically a continual increase in the number of annulments.

Abalos cites particularly interesting data from the Solicitor General, showing that the majority of annulment cases “were filed by wives (61%), of whom 91% were 30 years old or younger. A large majority (80%) of husbands who initiated cases were also 30 years old or younger. About four in 10 of those who filed cases had been married for five years or less.” Coincidentally enough, 2020 unemployment numbers sees 70% of the unemployed are from the 15- to 34-year-old range (with males 61%, females 39%).

The skewed numbers could be explained by demographics: around 70% of the Philippine population is 30 years old or younger, with national average age at 25.7 years old. But another explanation is simply the state of marriage. Henry Potrykus and Patrick Fagan (“The Divorce Revolution Perpetually Reduces US Economic Growth: Divorce Removes a Fourth of Head-of-Household Productivity Growth”; 2012) points out: “Marriage is a causal agent of economic growth. It constitutes one third to one fourth of the human capital contribution of household heads to macroeconomic growth. The total contribution of human capital to growth of domestic product in turn is large, being of equal proportion to the other two contributing factors: size of the labor pool and physical capital. Divorce removes this agent of economic growth.”

And so it goes: children deprived of married parents tend to perform less well in school, suffer more from depression, engage in more harmful activities, are more vulnerable to doing drugs or suicide, engage in promiscuity leading to teenage pregnancy, and are less productive as adults. Even today’s lockdown data finds children in stable families faring better psychologically and emotionally during the pandemic (“Stable Families Are Helping Protect Kids From Lockdown-Induced Depression And Suicide,” Glenn Stanton, 2021). Considering the state the country is in, perhaps people should really not be too quick to discount the importance of marriage both to individual and national life.


Jemy Gatdula is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.

Twitter @jemygatdula