June 15, 2008
Soap Operas Lower Fertility Rate In Brazil?

Preeti Aroon reports on a Foreign Policy blog that soap operas seem to cut down the fertility rate.

Many factors account for the drop in Brazilian fertility, but one recent study identified a factor most people probably wouldn't consider: soap operas (novelas).


During the past few decades, the vast majority of the population, of all social classes, has regularly tuned into the evening showings. The study, conducted by Eliana La Ferrara of Italy's Bocconi University and Alberto Chong and Suzanne Duryea of the Inter-American Development Bank, analyzed novelas aired from 1965 to 1999 in the top two time slots and found that they depict families that are much smaller than those in the real Brazil. Seventy-two percent of leading female characters age 50 or below had no children at all, and 21 percent had just one child. Hence, the authors hypothesized that the soap operas could be acting as a kind of birth control.

Using census data from 1970 to 1991 and data on the entry of Rede Globo into different markets, the researchers found that women living in areas that received Globo's broadcast signal had significantly lower fertility.

The researchers controlled for many factors that might have biased the results.

Think about this. Extremely poor countries in Africa have very high fertility rates and they are stuck in a Malthusian trap. How to fix this problem? Subsidize access to TV and movies for the poorest people in Africa.

Nonetheless, with total fertility rates of 7.38 in Mali and 7.37 in Niger (as of mid-2007), the resultant growth in these countries' populations is expected to be phenomenal over the next few years, unless growth rates and total fertility rates drop. For example, Mali's 2007 population is approximately 12 million. With its high total fertility rate per woman, Mali is expected to grow to more than 15 million (a 3 million or 25% increase) by 2015! Mali's 2007 growth rate of 2.7 means a doubling time of just 26 years. Other countries with high total fertility rates include Afghanistan at 6.64, Yemen at 6.49, and Samoa at 4.21.

Check out this list of high fertility rate countries that need soap operas.

Western aid agencies should be funded to put up satellite TV over Africa. The TVs can be delivered with solar panels to villages all over Africa. This will increase demand for solar power and therefore accelerate the development of photovoltaics technology. So we'll get a two-fer out of this deal. But if the villagers watch soaps during the daylight hours will this be effective? Probably so if the soaps work by changing attitudes.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 June 15 06:21 PM  Trends Demographic

Jake said at June 15, 2008 9:37 PM:

I was in Mali last fall. I did not see any evidence of over population. Nor did I see any old people. It sounds strange until you learn life expectancy in Mali is only 46. It seems that births are being offset by deaths.

Andrew Millard said at June 16, 2008 8:37 AM:

If we did this with the intention of limiting the population growth, would there be backlash accusing us of attempted genocide? How much would you bet?

alan143 said at June 16, 2008 10:50 AM:

This has been going on since the UN conference on population control in Bucharest, August 1974 (google it).

The first one used as a vehicle was a hospital soap broadcast in Kenya, and the second was "Coronation Street", a British soap, from November 1974 onwards. After that the US channels got going and the technique became general throughout the civilised world.

It isn’t just the soaps either. I’ve read studies which show that a realistic depiction of male violence reduces conceptions that night by 66%, and reality shows can reduce them by 50%, given careful scripting. Just think how much these fill the schedules nowadays, as we approach Peak Oil.

I think only the Indian government has publicly stated that it uses TV content to reduce the birth-rate but, since they cited previous experience by Western governments for doing so, it’s obviously we who were the first targets.

Google “soap opera” “population reduction” and pick the second link (currently) if you want to see more.

Half Canadian said at June 16, 2008 11:27 AM:

Instead of luring the poor in Africa to spend more time watching TV, wouldn't it be better to lure them into working more (and smarter)?

Watching TV + Lots of Kids = poor society
Working hard/smarter + Lots of Kids = rich society

Of course, if you want to colonize the place, the former is a better route, but who'd do the colonizing? China?

Randall Parker said at June 16, 2008 6:08 PM:

Half Canadian,

We care can't lure people into working harder or smarter. It is a lot easier to get people to watch TV because it is easier to do.

Lots of kids is not going to make any African country richer. They've got plenty of people. More people just dilute the available resources.

Andrew Millard,

We need to start advocating for obvious necessary ideas regardless of what some would say about those ideas. Beause the world needs solutions to the problems that are getting ignored.

Half Canadian said at June 17, 2008 11:22 AM:


The problem with Africa isn't the people, it is the governments. They are, with few exceptions, corrupt, racist and incompetent. Enterprising, hard working Africans are better off emigrating than they are staying because they get rewarded for their ingenuity and hard work elsewhere. So reduce the size of government and punish people for demanding bribes, and I do think that Africa would see noticeable improvements.

John Aitek said at July 9, 2008 5:39 PM:

Soap operas reduce fertility rate? I think that rich people can afford televisions and rich people lose more money when they raise children.

With very uncertain conditions and low life expectancy, it's important for Africans to have many children so that they can strengthen their families and have lots of labor to help harvest food on the farm.

James Bowery said at January 7, 2009 12:03 PM:

Yeah, like that's going to work:

Analysis of data collected by Census Bureau in 2002 shows that women from the top-10 immigrant- sending countries living in the United States collectively tend to have higher fertility than women in their home countries. As a group, immigrants from these countries have 23 percent more children than women in their home countries, adding to world population growth.

Since "civilized" behavior has turned evolution into a baby-making competition, here's my more realistic strategy:

Start a sect of "White Islam" the purpose of which is to use gender selection and IVF to relentlessly produce an of 160+ IQ Jayne Mansfield types for distribution to the our Muslim brothers world-wide -- keeping only enough of them within the White Muslims to let each man (selected for the "White Muslims" based on his genetic endowment to produce more 160+ Jayne Mansfield types) 4 wives.

This could not, of course, be done by a Christian sect without being labeled "White Supremacist".

Simo said at July 28, 2009 6:58 PM:

In India, many people mentioned me that their country is overpopulated. So government admitting that they try soap operas to limit population growth is not a political suicide but reflects public opinion...

oxtown said at April 29, 2010 12:06 AM:

Simo- India is the second most populous, and soon to be first, nation in the world with terrible, regional governmental control/policies. Droughts strike and result in huge percentages of farmers committing suicide. Consequently Indians will say that their country is overpopulated, but a major issue lies in the fact that natural resources(water) are dwindling.

Randall- there is no reasonable way to compare African nations with Brazil. Brazil has tremendous amounts of natural resources, as do many African nations, but during the last decade Brazil gained something most African nations lack- responsible leadership. Many things are allowing Brazil the ability to place itself in the position for a future regional leadership role, if not a hegemonic role, in the international community: advanced military, intense foreign capital investment, and ample amounts of remaining natural resources will all allow Brazil to prosper in the coming decades. Although the study cited has been verified, the "novelas" you refer to have become a cultural phenomenon specific to Brazil, and it has taken several decades for this to happen. I apologize if I am not catching your attempt at satire here, but do you seriously presume that you can transplant one cultural phenomenon in Brazil and expect it to produce the same results in a continent thousands of miles away with completely unequal amounts of technology and exposure to similar products?

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