Latin American Birthrates Falling Off a Cliff

Here’s a fun fact that will probably blow your mind: The average Brazilian, Colombian and Mexican woman will have 1.8, 1.9 and 2.2 children, respectively, over the course of her life. That’s no higher than the average American woman, who has 1.8 children over the course of her life, and — in the case of Brazil and Colombia — actually below the replacement rate.

The stereotype of the large, Catholic, Latino family simply no longer holds true. The most fertile country in the region is Guatemala… and even there, the number is only 3.2 children per woman.

There are plenty of theories as to what led to the birth dearth: more liberal social views, declining influence of the Church, better educational and career opportunities for women, etc., and all are no doubt contributing factors. But I have my own theory here. It’s all about money.

I spend a lot of time in Peru (it comes with the turf when you marry a Peruvian woman), and I’ve noticed the trend towards smaller families here as well. You can explain some of the trend in smaller families to women getting married later (my wife’s high school friends are all around 35 years old, and the majority are still unmarried). But even this can be partly explained by money. It’s so expensive to live in Lima, Peru, most couples can’t realistically afford to get married and start their own household until they’re pushing middle age.

Wages are rising in Peru (and the rest of Latin America), but the cost of living — and specifically housing — is rising a lot faster. If you want your child to be employable, you also have to pay for private education in Peru, which can easily top $1,000 per month per child for even a mid-tier school. Most American or European families would struggle with paying an extra $2,000 to $3,000 per month in school fees, so imagine how much worse it is on a local salary.

I’d liken it to American trying to afford a large family in Manhattan or San Francisco. It’s just not realistic for the vast majority of people.

Smaller families aren’t a problem… yet. Though if family sizes continue to shrink, Latin America is going to eventually have the same problems facing Japan and much of Europe: aging populations and stagnating economic growth.

 

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