17 March 2009

Fertility down in Brazil.

According to The Economist (hard copy), in 1960, the average Brazilian woman has 6.3 children in a lifetime, while this number dropped to 2.3 children per lifetime by 2000. This happened despite (of because of) military rule for much of that time period.

There are lots of lessons that could be learned from this dramatic change in a basic element of family life and culture in Brazil, that has parallels in countries all across the world as they experience economic development in similarly short spans of time (including Mexico amd China). While China poses an example where this change was imposed forcefully, in Brazil contraception was gently discouraged for part of the 40 year period in question, and Mexico has, at the very least, imposed strict legal prohibitions on abortion.

The big picture lesson I choose to draw is that dramatic social change can be secured in a generation or two. The dramatic increase in the number of women in the professions in the 1970s and 1980s, and the demise of the legitimacy of de jure segregation or open racial discrimination per se, even among far right conservatives (including many prominent segregationist politicians) repeat this point. The present is not destiny, and dramatic social change is possible in considerably less than a single lifetime.


Dave Barnes said...


Shame on you.
The main point of the article (which I read this morning) is that the spread of TV and telenovelas made a statistically significant contribution to the decline in the TFR.


Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

The main point of the article and my point are not the same. The telenovela angle is dubious, given the data that the Economist reported, at least.

For example, they reported some very small links in the divorce rates based upon TV viewing, but didn't offer up the change in the absolute divorce rate to compare it to, and didn't make much of a case that confounding variables were controlled for. Given the context (this has happened in a whole host of nations, not all of which have telenovelas) and complexity of the social phenomena they were studying, that was quite inexcusible.

I reported on the facts of the article which were shocking, indisputable, and looked at the forest instead of the trees.

Always hard to tell if you're really serious (you could be in jest, but tone of voice doesn't carry in print as well), but the soap aspect was a cute spin. The Economist does well for brevity, wit and willingness to be opinionated, at the cost of some lost reliability.