The September issue of National Geographic — the same one praising the rescue of orphaned baby elephants — documents a growing distaste among Brazilians for raising children. Since 1960, the fertility rate for Brazilian women has dropped dramatically, from 6.3 births per women to 1.9 — which is below replacement level.
While China’s fertility has also fallen drastically, it’s due to the government’s coercive one-child policy. But in Brazil, author Cynthia Gorney notes, “where the Roman Catholic Church dominates, abortion is illegal (except in rare cases) and no official government policy has ever promoted birth control.” So, the birth dearth there must be driven by something else.
Like many Western countries, Brazil has seen a tectonic shift in culture since 1960. Radical individualism and secularism have led people to ignore the Church’s teachings about sex, contraception, and sterilization. Consumerism makes two or fewer children (who after all, are expensive to raise) more desirable.
And then there’s the popular culture. For years, even poor Brazilians have owned televisions and have been watching Brazil’s wildly popular novelas. Novelas are evening soap operas similar to shows like Dallas, Dynasty, or Desperate Housewives. And they portray “a singular, vivid, aspirational image of the modern Brazilian family: affluent, light skinned, and small.”
In fact, the article reports, “Ninety percent of female characters in the average novela have just one child or none, which may have influenced Brazilian women to desire smaller families.”
And why not? Fewer children means greater freedom to pursue a career, make money, and purchase luxuries. One young working woman who was married four years told Gorney, “One [child], maybe two. To give them a proper education and a nice life, you can’t have more. Right now, I want money to finish building our house and to buy nice things.”
Sounds familiar to American ears? It should.
Brazil’s TV novelas are symptomatic of modern Western culture at large, which places the individual pursuit of pleasure and prosperity highest among all considerations — including marriage and the raising of children.
I understand that there are good reasons for limiting the size of our families. But the attitude toward children that seems to have pervaded Brazilian culture — and ours as well — is hard and utilitarian. It is also — and I say this at the risk of getting angry emails and letters — selfish.
And it won’t be easy to change. As Gorney writes, “When I asked [young Brazilian women] whether they ever felt nostalgia for the less materialistic life of their elders, two generations back — eight children here, ten there, with nobody expecting decorators to gussy up the sleeping quarters — I was able to make out, among the hooting, the word presa. Imprisoned.”
What an impoverished view of life, of family, of children! For some time now you’ve heard me say, and you will hear me say many times again, that we Christians must show the world a better way — living out lives of love and self-giving. And in this case, we need to model in our own lives, and in our own families, the Christian view that children are indeed a gift of God. And we better do it before it’s too late.
Further Reading and Information
Machisma Cynthia Gorney | National Geographic Magazine | September 2011