FAQ: What sort of questions are being asked in YAFS?
The series of Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study (YAFS) surveys is the most comprehensive source of nationally and regionally representative information on the Filipino youth aged 15-24. The dynamism and diversity of this population, as well as the most pressing issues of each generation, are reflected in the kind of questions we ask in each round of the study.
When the YAFS was first conducted in 1982, then called the Young Adult Fertility Study, experts had been sounding the alarm on the Philippines’ high fertility rate – with reproductive-age women giving birth to an average of five children in 1978. Existing nationwide studies on fertility, however, such as the National Demographic Survey, were confined only to married women. Thus, it was an important feature of the first YAFS to include young unmarried women and cover relevant fertility-related issues, including premarital sex, dating and courtship, and attitudes toward virginity, marriage, and family formation.
The YAFS had been intended to be a one-time undertaking, but due to the importance of its findings, it was conducted again in 1994. This time, the survey scope was expanded to cover issues related to sexuality, but the acronym YAFS was maintained. The 1994 YAFS (YAFS2) was the first in the series to include male respondents in the sample, enabling demographers to examine the behaviors of both young men and women, including sexual behaviors, awareness and knowledge of HIV/AIDS, and non-sexual risky behaviors like smoking, drinking, and drug use.
Given the influence and policy value of YAFS findings, the 2002 YAFS (YAFS3) involved social scientists from other disciplines, including sociology, anthropology, psychology, adolescent medicine, and mass communication to further expand the study scope and help refine the study questionnaires. For the first time, a regionally representative data set on Muslim youth was included, and the study featured other risk behaviors such as suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.
Building on the questions from the previous surveys, the 2013 YAFS (YAFS4) added more themes, including a whole block on health and lifestyle (e.g., diet, height, weight, exercise, body image) and self-assessed well-being (life satisfaction and happiness). For the first time, too, a self-rating depression scale was used to examine the youth’s psychological well-being. Ultimately, given the increasing impact of the new media such as the internet on young people’s lives, questions on cellphone use, exposure to social media, cyberbullying, and online harassment were included in the YAFS4.
The 2021 YAFS (YAFS5) keeps most of the questions in the YAFS4, allowing for trend analyses of important issues, including teenage pregnancy, premarital and unprotected sex, reproductive health, and non-sexual risky behaviors.
But this year’s YAFS stands out in many ways. We have crowd-sourced youth issues online, consulted experts from various disciplines and stakeholders, and conducted focus group discussions with young people (as with YAFS3) to review and update the questionnaire. This cohort of young people are digital natives, and so we consulted experts from the UP College of Mass Communication to particularly update questions on media use. We also invited experts from the UP Department of Psychology to refine questions on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression (SOGIE) and on self-esteem.
Most prominently, the ongoing pandemic has undoubtedly reconfigured the youth’s lives, and this is well reflected in how meticulously the questions were reviewed and phrased in light of the pandemic. The questions will allow us to study how the pandemic has affected young people’s education and work, relationship-building, sexual behaviors, and overall well-being. We have also allotted a separate block to questions related to COVID-19 symptoms, testing, vaccination, preventive strategies, and sources of information.
All in all, the YAFS5 covers 14 major blocks (see infographic), making it the most comprehensive of the YAFS surveys to date (see infographic).
Respondent fatigue is a valid concern for surveys with questionnaires of this length, and so we have sequenced the questions in a way that would ease the respondent into the interview – starting with his/her personal information, family background, and activities, gradually building up to the more sensitive questions on sex and finally on COVID-19. As with the previous YAFS, we put primacy on the privacy of the respondents and confidentiality of information.
The household and individual questionnaires also underwent pre-testing and are available in major languages (English, Tagalog, Ilocano, Bicol, Waray, Hiligaynon, and Cebuano).