Since 2010 Brazil has been receiving quite a bit of attention for electing its first female president, a decreasing fertility rate and overall economic growth. Last September National Geographic covered the inter-related Brazilian phenomenon of greater economic power, lower birthrates and the influence of popular telenovelas (a type of Spanish or Portuguese speaking soap opera) on the lives of women. Industrialization and higher educational attainment both have immense bearing on family size but the effects that television programming may have on women is worth a discussion. Media certainly plays a role in everyone’s life and it is all too familiar how negatively print media in the form of beauty magazines can affect women. The positive message about womanhood in telenovelas though, coupled with other circumstances point to an interesting trend in the largest Latin American nation.
Studies done in other parts of the world have shown the impact of television on society and women specifically, but in Brazil’s case the relationship is striking. Clearly having access to electricity and televisions will have an effect on how people spend their time but demographers have been able to illustrate that between 1960 and 2009 the access to popular telenovelas has changed the lives of women, rich and poor. Telenovelas are known to show women who endure great romantic heartache but they also show the power and glamour of these ladies. Generally, female characters on these programs are shown to have exciting jobs, small families and the opportunity to blaze their own paths. Based on the research of the Inter-American Development Bank and Florida State University it looks like the popularity of the telenovela female characters has left a large impression on women viewers. Furthermore, better education for women, access to publicly funded sterilization, over the counter birth control and a falling infant mortality rate also vastly contributed to the current average of 1.9 children per woman in Brazil today.
Women’s views of what they can achieve and how much control they wield over their own destiny, compared to their foremothers, have changed dramatically. Evidence from economic studies also shows that had fertility in Brazil not waned significantly since mid-century, the growth of the economy would have needed to be 0.4 % higher annually in order to achieve equal poverty reduction. An expanding economy needs able workers and women who spend less time rearing children, massively contribute to their nation’s economic well-being and increase their own financial power. In addition, a nation that has a smaller or shrinking population at a time of extraordinary growth can afford to more quickly raise the standard of living for the average citizen and reduce the number of those living in abject poverty.
While many issues remain to be solved in South America’s most populous country today, life is improving for Brazilians all the time. Until very recently Brazil was one of the most economically divided societies but between 2003 and 2009 the percent of people living in poverty went from 22 percent to 7 percent. The hope and sense of possibility that so many women feel today, is part of a greater, national positive attitude toward the future. Overpopulation concerns aside, it is not surprising that people today are having fewer children given that expectations for what it means to live a good, comfortable life are also quickly changing. Brazilian women set out decades ago to change their own reality and in turn gradually put their entire country on a path toward greater prosperity, proving that empowered women are an integral part of national well-being. While the government didn’t always actively stand up for the rights of women, the telenovelas seem to have played their own, invaluable part.