The day after I finished reading a National Geographic article on Brazil’s dramatic decrease in the country’s fertility rate, I came across something just as surprising on India. The Financial Times recently headlined “India sees rise in one-child families.” A decline in the number of children in Brazil is perhaps unexpected, but one-child families in India, land of 1.2 billion and growing, is remarkable.
According to a study by a visiting professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, eight percent of Indian households, mostly urban and educated, are choosing to have only one child. The research shows that competition for jobs in a fast-growth economy was the greatest determinant of the single child trend in India. That, and more women are delaying marriage.
As for Brazil, it is a nation of devout Roman Catholics, with a strong machismo attitude across the land. And still, the number of children dropped – from 5.3 in 1970 to the national average of 1.9 in 2011 (which, by the way, is lower than the U.S., which stands at 2 children per woman). India too, has entrenched cultural beliefs, yet today it has a fertility rate of 2.6.
What factors are causing this? Economic growth and consumerism, and in India’s case a desire by parents to attain good, white collar jobs for their kids. Of course the poorer the region, the higher the birth rate. In Bihar, a very poor state which borders Nepal, the rate is 3.9.
India’s health minister recently listed measures that have contributed to the lowering of the fertility rate, including improving literacy levels, empowerment of women, discouraging adolescent marriages, delaying child birth, and involving village level community health workers in promoting family planning. I saw actions of some community groups first-hand and can attest that there are some very dedicated groups working on this.
All this makes sense, but there are other influencing factors at play.
Interestingly enough, one reason for the decline in Brazilian families is access to electricity and television. In particular, telenovelas, or soap operas that showcase small families and educated, professional/white-collar working women. These shows are extremely popular with women and men of all economic classes. Along with smaller families, the shows also reflect lifestyles that people want to achieve. If you have a lot of kids, you probably won’t have that nice car, home, college education, etc.
I’m really curious if Indian soap operas are similar. One thing about Indian families is that the mother-in-law carries a lot of weight regarding family decisions. And in a male-dominated society, mothers-in-law want sons. Perhaps that is changing as more Indians rise to “middle-class” status. And perhaps tv will reflect that, or already does.
Both cases underscore the impact of education on family planning and reproductive health. When families are given information to make informed choices, not to mention access to health care, it can lead to better lives. But watching a soap opera or two doesn’t hurt.