National Geographic : 2011 Sep
• anybody tell you they know for sure what caused the decline," a demographer advised me at Cede- plar, the university-based study center in Belo Horizonte. "We'll never have a winner as the best explanation.") But if one were to try composing a formula for crashing a developing nation's fer- tility rate without o cial intervention from the government---no China-style one-child policy, no India-style e ort to force sterilization upon the populace---here's a six-point plan, tweaked for the peculiarities of modern Brazil: 1. Industrialize dramatically, urgently, and late, causing your nation to hurtle through in 25 years what economists used to think of as a century's worth of internal rural-to-urban re- location of its citizens. Brazil's military rulers, who seized power in a 1964 military coup and held on through two decades of sometimes bru- tal authoritarian rule, forced the country into a new kind of economy, one that has concen- trated work in the cities, where the housing is cramped, the favela streets are dangerous, babies look more like new expense burdens than like future useful farmhands, and the jobs women must take for their families' survival require leaving home for ten hours at a stretch. 2. Keep your medications mostly unregulated and your pharmacy system over-the-counter, so that when birth control pills hit the world in the early 1960s, women of all classes can get their hands on them, even without a doctor's prescrip- tion, if they can just come up with the money. Nurture in these women a particularly dismis- sive attitude toward the Catholic Church's posi- tion on arti cial contraception. (See number 4.) 3. Improve your infant and child mortality statistics until families no longer feel compelled to have extra, just-in-case babies on the supposi- tion that a few will die young. Compound that reassurance with a national pension program, relieving working-class parents of the conviction that a big family will be their only support when they grow old. 4. Distort your public health system's nan- cial incentives for a generation or two, so that doctors learn they can count on higher pay and more predictable work schedules when they per- form cesareans rather than waiting for natural deliveries. Then spread the word, woman to woman, that a public health doctor who has al- ready begun the surgery for a cesarean can prob- ably be persuaded to throw in a discreet tubal ligation, thus ensuring a thriving, decades-long publicly supported gray market for this perma- nent method of contraception. Brazil's health system didn't formally recognize voluntary fe- male sterilization until 1997. But the rst time I ever heard the phrase "a fábrica está fechada," it was from a 69-year-old retired schoolteacher who had her tubes tied in 1972, a er her third child was born. is woman had three sisters. Every one of them underwent a ligation. Yes, they were all Catholic. Yes, the church hierar- chy disapproved. No, none of them much cared; they were women of faith, but in some matters the male clergy is perhaps not wholly equipped to discern the true will of God. e lady was pouring tea into china cups at her dining table as we talked, and her voice was matter-of-fact. "Everyone was doing it," she said. 5. Introduce electricity and television at the same time in much of the nation's interior, a double disruption of traditional family living patterns, and then flood the airwaves with a singular, vivid, aspirational image of the mod- ern Brazilian family: a uent, light skinned, and small. Scholars have tracked the apparent family- size-shrinking influence of novelas, Brazil's Portuguese-language iterations of the beloved evening soap operas, or telenovelas, that broad- cast all over Latin America, each playing for months, like an endless series of bodice-ripper So why two kids? Why not four? Why not the eight your grand- mother had? Always the same answer---"Impossible! Too much work!" With the widened eyes and startled grin I came to know well: "It's the 21st century, senhora, are you nuts?"