In Brazil, numbers best describe the dramatic drop in the total fertility rate: from six children per woman in the 1960s to fewer than two (1.9) today.

Some other compelling numbers to consider: 88.9 percent of women are now literate, a rate slightly higher than for males; a third of all women aged 18-23 are in college and two thirds of all graduates are women. And 80 percent of women of reproductive age use some form of contraception.

Lucelia Carvalho, 34, who lives with her six-month-old daughter in Rio de Janeiro's largest slum, says she will restrict her family to only one more child, following in her mother’s footsteps.

“My grandmother had 10 children but didn’t have radio or television,” she said. Television, including the wildly popular novelas or soap operas, has had a huge influence on lifestyle choices. Novela families have just one or two children.

Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church’s once powerful voice against artificial birth control is largely ignored across the socio-economic spectrum.

Father Anibao Gil Lopes of the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro blames a new culture of self-centered materialism. He foresees a demographic distortion that he says has hurt many aging European societies with ever-smaller working populations.

But Rio family planning advocate Ney Costa says Brazil has time to create a safety net to protect its future elderly and a country with an ideal population balance.

Fred de Sam Lazaro's picture
Fred de Sam Lazaro is director of the Project for Under-Told Stories, a program that combines international journalism and teaching, and a Senior Distinguished Fellow at the Hendrickson Institute for...

Brazil: Girl Power