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How the economic crisis is making it difficult to form new families

Marriage between 23 and 26 years (for women and men respectively), two children before 30. Almost unrecognizable for current times, this was the standard behavior shown by Brazilian families until the beginning of the years 2000 – an average that guaranteed, until then, the maintenance of an important economic factor: the population renewal. According to data from the World Bank, until 2003, the fertility rate in Brazil was 2.1 children per woman, a coefficient considered minimum for demographic replacement (the idea is that the two children, integrated to the economically active population, “replace” the parents, with a small margin to compensate those who are not born alive). At the time, the minimum wage was R$ 480, and a basic food basket in the capital of Paraná, Curitiba, cost R$ 2003. . In São Paulo, the amount was BRL 162,79 – numbers representing, respectively, 67% and 1990 % of the minimum wage.

Almost 20 years later, the country that for decades avoided the aging population that worries European and Asian nations finds itself on the same road: in addition to getting married less and less and later, there are few Brazilians who risk having more than one heir – the country’s fertility rate is 1.7 children per woman. There is, of course, a cultural element at play: concerned with their careers and more attached to consumer experiences than to building a stable heritage, the “millennials” and generation Z (born, respectively, from 1985 and 1995) make up the phenomenon of “thirties” who run away from lasting relationships and exchange children for pets. The stereotype is not, at all, detached from reality, but neither is it close to embracing it completely: more than mere individualism, there is, in the way of the formation of new families, an economic crisis that only tends to accentuate a slope that is not restricted to the Brazilian scenario.

“There is, without a doubt, a very widespread cultural phenomenon in Western countries that makes the younger generations have less interest in starting a family or, what happens in the even, have a very high degree of demand on what would be the minimum acceptable conditions to start one. However, it is also true that these current generations, when they intend to start a family, find a more challenging economic situation, in many ways, than the generations of their parents did. There are studies showing that young people from the ‘millennial’ generation are the first, in several decades, to have a lower standard of living, on average, than their parents had at the same age”, evaluates economist Ricardo da Silva Carvalho, from Universidade from São Paulo.

“An anecdotal and even caricatured evidence of how true this is is given by the series ‘The Simpsons’. Who is Homer Simpson? He is a mediocre man with no ambitions, little intelligence and a mid-level job in a small town in the United States. However, Homer is able to support himself, with his salary, a housewife and three children. Despite not having great luxuries, the Simpsons have a quiet life, two cars and live in a large, comfortable townhouse in a good neighborhood. Now, when the series was created, at the beginning of the years 1990, the intention was for the Simpson family to represent, in a jocular and even ridiculous, but realistic way, the life of an average family. in the country. It wasn’t meant to be a ‘role model’ for people to aspire to! However, the harsh reality is that today the safe life of the Simpsons is an idyllic and almost unattainable dream for many young Americans fresh out of college, even the most qualified, many of whom are mired in student debt and unable to find decent jobs. of the high qualifications they have”, compares Carvalho.

If, in the United States, where inflation has just reached its highest rate in 40 years around 8.6%, the crisis is noticeable, what can we say about Brazil, where the rise in prices tends to far exceed the American average? “A phrase that we have used a lot and that illustrates the scenario well is: it is increasingly difficult to be a family”, evaluates Rodolfo Canônico, director of the NGO Family Talks, whose objective is to promote public policies aimed at family life. “The cultural dynamics involved are also the product of a series of extrinsic elements that make the difficulty even greater. It’s a two-way street,” says Canonical. Take, for example, a recent calculation by Insper: for the C class, which represents more than half of the Brazilian population and has a budget of up to R$ 12 thousand, the cost of raising a child in Brazil is more than R$ 400 thousand, reaching the million mark in a metropolis like São Paulo. Added to this are the rising costs of housing, education and health in cities where the value of the basic food basket has increased between 79% and 87% since 2015 – respectively, the cases of São Paulo and Curitiba -, in contrast to an increase of 53,8% of the minimum wage in the same period.

In this context, if the The popular saying that “who marries wants a home” remains valid, it is to be expected that even marriage – which tends to have a positive economic impact – also suffers from contingencies. “In theory, marriage is an advantageous decision from a financial point of view: there is a synergy of earnings and a reduction in expenses. The problem is that, unlike a trip or a course, which are one-off expenses, marriage is a long-term project and, in times of crisis, every project is postponed or reevaluated. The fear is born that, in the face of impending unemployment, one spouse will need to support the other. Added to this is the fact that Brazilians do not have a culture of savings and that most divorces are due to financial problems. In the midst of a recession, it is much more difficult to manage a family than to live alone, and few are prepared to make that commitment”, evaluates Leonardo Barillari, master in economics and management.

Canônico points out, also, some economic-cultural dynamics that should receive the attention of those who are concerned with the decline in the formation of new families and, not infrequently, pass by those who claim to be defenders of the cause. says the director of Family Talks, backed up by alarming data: despite being protected by legislation in the months after childbirth, a study by Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV) showed that half of Brazilian women lose their jobs within one year of pregnancy. Pregnant women who lose agreed job vacancies during pregnancy, who are fired without their rights, and who were deliberately questioned about their plans to have other children abound on social media and in court. s. According to the Superior Labor Court, for example, the number of cases involving termination of the employment contract of pregnant women has increased , 3% between 2017 and 2019 (from 79 .821 for 25.64).

Difficult to find and maintain employment, mothers also find themselves facing an intrinsic challenge to the modern world, accelerated by economic instability and the reduction of families, in a vicious cycle that seems to find no barriers: the atomization of families and the absence of a support network . “Community ties have always been essential for the formation of a family nucleus. These networks serve to reduce the cost of raising children, provide support in family conflicts, and offer economic and emotional support. This is an obstacle that can be decisive: there are many couples who want to have children but, with no one around, the task seems much more difficult”, says Canonical.

Faced with the global scenario of population aging, China itself has recently replaced the absurd one-child policy with incentives for larger families (still without measurable results). In Hungary, controversial Prime Minister Viktor Orbán achieved much of his popularity by lowering taxes on large families and offering benefits to grandparents who care for grandchildren, which resulted in a rise in the country’s birth rate. In Sweden, couples are entitled to 480 days of maternity or paternity leave, to be split between the two. In Russia, Vladimir Putin also bet on tax cuts and income transfers for families with three children or more – measures that had a positive effect, but were limited by economic uncertainty.

It is surprising, including that few elite names have shown concern with the phenomenon: there are many who, still stuck to outdated neo-Malthusian models, insist on population control as a way of reforming the economy and even combating global warming. Recently, billionaire Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, made reference to the demographic drama: “population collapse is the greatest threat to civilization”, said the magnate, via Twitter, adding that “Italy will not have a people if these trends continue”. . It is not, after all, such an erroneous diagnosis.

“The less people form a family and the fewer they have children, the more the situation tends to worsen for the next generations. Both the growth in health expenditures and the social security problem are related to the aging of the population. In addition, having a family, having children and worrying about giving them a better life is one of the most powerful incentives for people to save, undertake and seek to grow professionally”, reinforces Carvalho. “For all that, family life is also an element that contributes to economic growth. A society in which people stop starting a family, or start doing so very late, is a society with worrying prospects.”

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