Baby blues

Brazil’s birth rate falls by 24% in the first few months of 2021.

Brazil’s birth rate decreased by 24% during the first two months of 2021, from 443,000 births in January and February 2020 to 336,700 during the same period of 2021, reported the Association of Registrars of Natural Persons of Brazil (Arpen-Brasil). The Live Births Information System of the Ministry of Health also reported that Brazil registered 2.68 million births in Brazil in 2020, the lowest figure since 1994, and a 5.9% decrease compared to 2019. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic is considered the main reason behind the dramatic slowdown, as the anomaly in the country is part of a wider global trend. But birth rates in Brazil have been slowing down in the last five years. Between 2017 and 2018, the birth rate only grew by 0.7% and between 2018 and 2019, the birth rate decreased for the first time in years by 3.2%.

A São Paulo based healthcare executive told us, “I believe COVID-19 is the main driver behind the slowdown. The Federal government’s lack of action to tackle the spread of the virus transferred responsibility onto the population and this is one of the results. Additionally, we shouldn’t forget the country’s economic problems, households grew poorer during the pandemic so they’re not going to bring a new mouth to the table.”

“COVID-19 is the main driver behind the slowdown. The Federal government’s lack of action to tackle the spread of the virus transferred responsibility onto the population and this is one of the results.”

Healthcare executive, Brazil

While the pandemic is a convenient scapegoat, there are, perhaps, many contributing factors as the executive explained, “In a continental-sized country like Brazil, with a wide range of social, economic and cultural backgrounds, predictions can sometimes be a mere guess. Were these births postponed? How many births are no longer possible because families have split? How has intrafamily mortality affected potential births? It’s hard to answer these questions.”

Age also played a factor, according to a Brazilian public health researcher, “The decline was more prominent in younger women, which provides some hope for a reversion in the near future when the health and economic conditions improve.” A former public health official was sceptical, “It’s difficult to see a recovery in fertility rates as social and cultural dynamics have been permanently altered.”

“It’s difficult to see a recovery in fertility rates as social and cultural dynamics have been permanently altered.”

Former public health official, Brazil

At the same time, Brazil has experienced an increase in life expectancy for those aged more than 60 in the last decades. Thus, the decrease in birth rates poses a significant risk to the income and well-being of the elderly, as the number of future taxpayers is potentially reduced. Demography experts have also warned about the immediate economic losses caused by premature deaths and, additionally, the social impact that long lasting illnesses can have on household incomes. 

Brazil’s COVID-19 related health crisis, which has led to a humanitarian emergency in many areas of the country have left the government, with only a year left in office, with little room for manoeuvre to implement significant measures to turn around the slowdown of birth rates. As the healthcare executive confirmed, “The government has no strategy to deal with this but promoting and encouraging births should be high up their agenda.” The researcher did not see the urgency, “Demographic policies shouldn’t be transactional political tools designed for four-year administrations. Births and deaths in Brazil are expected to equalise in 2050, efforts and policies should be targeting this time frame.”

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