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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)