Did Soap Operas Shrink Brazil's Families?

Between 1960 and 2000, Brazil’s fertility rate plummeted from 6.3 to 2.3. The only other country with a comparable decline during that period was China, under its rigid one-child policy. But what was behind the Brazilian fertility plunge?

One major factor may have been the influence of soap operas, according to a fascinating new working paper by Eliana La Ferrara, Alberto Chong, and Suzanne Duryea, issued by the Bureau of Economic Analysis for Development. Brazil’s most popular prime-time soaps have for years revolved around small and stable middle-class families that were much smaller than the traditional Brazilian family. The study found that wherever the soaps aired, the fertility for women dropped significantly, as they adapted to the reality they saw on television.

Imported soap operas, meanwhile, seem to have had no effect on fertility rates.

The study builds on work by the economists Robert Jensen and Emily Oster on the role television plays in the empowerment of women in rural India. But this new study is among the first to focus on the effects of specific programming.

(Hat tip: Foreign Policy)

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  1. dan p says:

    Thailand (and to a lesser extent some other Southeast Asian countries) experienced dramatic decreases in fertility because of strong, government-sponsored contraception/education programs.

    This paper said the government sponsored nothing and that contraceptive advertising was even illegal for a period of time.

    Yet I have a hard time believing that TV, and soap operas in particular, influenced fertility so dramatically (if at all).

    Because these women had the free time and the television (which is probably indicative of wealth), isn’t possible that the drop in fertility is related simply to development like it is in the rest of the world?

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  2. frankenduf says:

    I wonder what the airing of Joanie loves Chachi on Korean TV did to the fertility rate there

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  3. Quin says:

    “The study found that wherever the soaps aired, the fertility for women dropped significantly, as they adapted to the **reality** they saw on television.”

    Calling soap operas “reality” is a stretch by any definition of the word.

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  4. Miss Middle of Manchester says:


    Eastenders and Coronation Street aren’t realistic?

    I’d say they’re far too realistic.

    But maybe Brazilian soaps are different. The article does mention that they feature middle class families rather than working class families.

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  5. Daniel Doro Ferrante says:

    There’s a major caveat in this whole piece: Brazilian soaps are absolutely *nothing* like american ones; /ditto/ for mexican ones as well.

    So, when discussing them, one must keep this in mind not to get lured by some of the stereotypes out there…

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  6. WholeMealOfFood says:

    What was the trend for child mortality rates before and during that period? Also, was there some migration from farming during that period?

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  7. Gerbie says:

    I remember working in the Dominican Republic. When one of my colleagues was talking about his wife being pregnant for the fifth time, several others informed if they didn’t own a television.

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  8. Lourenço (Brazil) says:

    There is one more thing to it besides the “adapting to the reality shown on TV”. Whenever the wifes were watching soap operas, they were not making babies… And that is prime time for baby-making as well…

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