YAFS5 key findings generate discussions on the state of today’s youth
Presenters respond to questions from the audience during the YAFS5 national dissemination forum.
The University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI), in collaboration with the Department of Health (DOH), presented the key findings of the 2021 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study (YAFS5) during a public forum held on 14 October 2022 in Quezon City.
Entitled “Zoom In, Zoom Out: Filipino Youth in Focus,” the forum brought together close to a hundred representatives of the academe, government agencies, civil society, local and international development organizations, as well as members of the press. It was also live-streamed on the Facebook pages of UPPI and YAFS5—a first for a UPPI-led public event—to allow greater public engagement, especially from other parts of the country. The livestreaming has since drawn more than 3,400 views.
The dissemination forum culminates more than a year of rigorous consultations and questionnaire development and six months of data collection amid restrictions and challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Obtaining data from our youth during the critical decade of their life when they make profound decisions, the study reflects to us the state of young people in their political and socioeconomic contexts… Thus, it is something that everyone is or should be concerned about,” said UP College of Social Sciences and Philosophy (CSSP) Associate Dean Jan Robert R. Go, reading the message from CSSP Dean Maria Bernadette L. Abrera.
Updated trends, new contexts
From L to R: Dr. Maria Midea Kabamalan, Ms. Klarriness Tanalgo, Dr. Elma Laguna, Mr. Sanny Boy Afable, Dr. Grace Cruz, and Dr. Christian Joy Cruz. They are joined via Zoom by Assoc. Prof. Maria Paz Marquez.
UPPI faculty members and researchers shared the results of the YAFS5, which update existing trends and examines new experiences among the youth.
In her introductory presentation, Prof. Maria Midea M. Kabamalan, YAFS5 project coordinator, explained the study scope and design, and survey protocol. She also noted the difficulties of conducting fieldwork during the pandemic and the support they received from the government and communities.
In the first half of the forum, University Researcher Klarriness P. Tanalgo, Asst. Prof. Elma P. Laguna, and YAFS5 Research Associate Sanny Boy D. Afable discussed the study findings regarding the sociodemographic characteristics; schooling, work, and lifestyle; mental health and non-sexual risk behaviors of the youth, respectively.
Among the key findings that elicited reactions from the audience include the decline in the percentage of youth raised by both parents—from at least 80 percent in 2013 to 67% in 2021.
“Where are the parents?” asked members of the audience with incredulity during the open forum.
In response, Prof. Kabamalan said there had been an indication of a declining trend in the past. “I was not surprised that there was a lower percentage who were raised by both parents dahil nakita na natin ito in previous years… Without COVID, we still expect it to go lower,” said Prof. Kabamalan.
The K-12 program and the pandemic, on the other hand, are seen to reconfigure the education and work trajectories of the youth. Between 2013 and 2021, the share of youth not working nor studying decreased, but the percentage of working students tripled.
“This suggests that the addition of two years of schooling somehow forced young people to juggle work and schooling,” Dr. Laguna said. Incidentally, lack of funds has emerged as the primary reason why young people left school.
Meanwhile, experts in the audience surmised that the significant decline in the percentage of youth who are smoking and drinking could be attributed to the SIN Tax Law, which raised the prices of alcohol and tobacco products, and the restrictions and lack of social interactions during the pandemic, on top of changing attitudes among the youth.
Changing sexual behaviors
UPPI faculty and staff together with DOH staff led by OIC-Usec Beverly Ho and other guests and participants of Zoom In, Zoom Out: Filipino Youth in Focus, YAFS5 National Dissemination Forum
The second part of the program shifted the discussion to young people’s sexual and reproductive health, topics that form the core of the YAFS series.
Prof. Grace T. Cruz and Asst. Prof. Christian Joy P. Cruz presented the latest findings on the youth’s fertility and maternal health and on reproductive health, respectively. Assoc. Prof. Maria Paz N. Marquez, on the other hand, joined the program via Zoom to discuss the findings on sexual behaviors.
The researchers notably found that the prevalence of teenage pregnancy declined by 50%, from 13.7% in 2013 to 6.8% in 2021. At the same time, there was a decline in the percentage of youth who engaged in premarital and early sex.
“[The upward trend of percentage of youth who had sex before age 18 from 1994 to 2013] signify a younging of sexual onset during this twenty-year period. However, there was a reversal in the trend by 2021,” said Assoc. Prof. Marquez during her presentation.
The majority of young people also used contraceptives during their first sex. However, the contraceptive prevalence rate, or the proportion of currently married young women who are using a contraceptive method, remains low at 26%, and the fear of side effects and wanting to have a baby emerged as the top reasons for not using it.
“[It’s too early] to say [whether the decline in teenage pregnancy can be attributed to government efforts] because if you look at the contraceptive use for age group 15-19, it’s about 30% for modern contraceptive use and 10% for natural family planning. It’s relatively low and is something that needs to be investigated further,” said Dr. Christian Joy Cruz in response to a question from the audience. As raised during the open forum, the effect of the pandemic on fertility behavior also merits further analysis.
She also said that disaggregated analysis by sexual orientation is possible, given that YAFS5 has an extensive section on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
DOH Usec-OIC Beverly Ho and POPCOM OIC-Executive Director Lolito Tacardon provided government response to the YAFS5 findings.
Since the last YAFS survey was held in 2013, there has been an especially strong demand for updated data on the Filipino youth from policymakers and program implementers. “The whole idea of why we’re in the business of data gathering… [is so the data could be] used as a scientific basis for the formulation of appropriate policies for the welfare of young people,” said Dr. Grace Cruz.
Government representatives present during the forum welcomed the findings of the study and expressed the need to take action on the issues faced by today’s youth.
“Many of the issues we discussed are multisectoral in nature, but the DOH agenda for many years has been largely curative and clinical… Ang tanong is how effective, how targeted, and how efficient our interventions are,” said DOH OIC-Undersecretary Beverly Ho.
OIC-Usec. Ho particularly sounded the alarm on worsening mental health among the youth and called for “innovative” ways to approach the problem.
“We’re in this new phase wherein massive scaleup of access to counseling services is really what needs to happen,” said Dr. Ho.
On the prospects of institutionalizing YAFS, Dr. Ho underscored the possibility of the DOH still funding the succeeding rounds of the study. The YAFS surveys have not been conducted in a regular manner, given that they are mostly contingent on funding sources.
Meanwhile, Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) OIC-Executive Director Lolito Tacardon said the results of the YAFS5 “come at the right time” as the agency pursues the enactment of a national policy for the prevention of adolescent pregnancies.
“We have mixed emotions, lalo sa program managers. [There's] some level of success in our current programs... At the same time, the youth still face issues regarding their sexual and reproductive health.”
Capping off the forum, Prof. Kabamalan expressed hope that the findings will aid the development of programs and policies for the youth. “Ang role po namin as researchers ay nakumpleto na namin, to an extent, so this is really the time for government and development partners to take action,” she said.
The full results of the YAFS5 will be released in the form of a monograph and the data will be made available for public use in 2023. The preliminary findings are available here.
We are grateful to Mr. Ian Joseph Publico, IEC Specialist, Knowledge Management and Communication Division (KMCD) of POPCOM for the photos during the national dissemination, which are uploaded here.