[FoME] IADB: Brasilianische Telenovelas beeinflussen Geburten- und Scheidungsrate

Christoph Dietz christoph.dietz at CAMECO.ORG
Mi Apr 1 10:57:17 CEST 2009

Eliana La Ferrara, Alberto Chong, Suzanne Duryea:
Soap Operas and Fertility: Evidence form Brazil
Washington: Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), 2008

Alberto Chong, Eliana La Ferrara:
Television and divorce: evidence from Brazilian novelas
Washington: Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), 2009

Jan 29, 2009

Brazilian soap operas shown to impact social behaviors 
IDB studies say "novelas" helped shape women’s views on marriage,

Long known for showcasing stunning beaches, charismatic characters and
realistic depictions of the lives and aspirations of the middle class,
Brazilian soap operas have helped shape women’s views on divorce and
childbearing in critical ways, two recent studies by the Inter-American
Development Bank (IDB) show.

Both studies analyze the role of television and soap operas in
influencing dramatic changes in both fertility and divorce rates in
Brazil in the past three decades. Fertility rates in the country dropped
more than 60 percent since the 1970s and divorce jumped more than
five-fold since the 1980s. During the same period ownership of
television sets jumped more than ten-fold, reaching more than 80 percent
of households.

The findings from the two studies- “Soap Operas and Fertility,:
Evidence from Brazil” and “Television and Divorce: Evidence from
Brazilian Novelas” -- could have important implications for
governments in development nations. Authorities in these countries often
struggle to educate the population on key public health and social
issues because of high illiteracy rates and limited newspaper
circulation and Internet access.

“Television plays a crucial role in circulating ideas, particularly
in developing nations with a strong oral tradition such as Brazil,”
said IDB economist Alberto Chong, one of the authors of the studies.
“The papers suggest that certain television programs can be a tool
to convey very important social messages to help fight the spread of the
AIDS epidemic and promote the protection of rights for minorities, for

Both studies focus on the expansion of Rede Globo, Brazil’s largest
media group and the world’s fourth biggest commercial network. Globo
has an extensive coverage of Brazil: its broadcasts were expanded to 98
percent of the country’s municipalities in the 1990s, reaching 17.9
million households, from virtually zero in the mid-1960s.

The rapid expansion of Globo during those years and the dramatic change
in some Brazilian social indicators offer a fertile ground for research,
The papers perform a series of econometric tests with robust statistical
results. They use extensive demographic data and detailed information
about the expansion of television signal coverage and soap opera content
in Brazil in the past three decades.

Impact of Television

The studies show that television played an important role in
influencing women’s perceptions about marriage and family from 1970 to
1991, in addition to other well-studied factors such as risings
education levels, access to contraception and certain government

The first paper found that fertility rates, or the number of live
births per woman of reproductive age, were significantly lower in areas
of Brazil covered by the signal of Globo television than in areas that
did not receive the signal. 

The impact on behavior has been the strongest among women in poor
households and on women in the middle or late child bearing years,
suggesting that television influenced their decision to stop having
babies rather than when they should start having children.

In general, the probability of a woman giving birth in areas covered by
the Globo signal decreased by 0.6 percentage point more than in areas
without coverage. The magnitude of the effect is comparable to that
associated with an increase of 2 years in women’s education.  There
was no impact in fertility rates the year before the Globo signal became

“Constant exposure to the smaller, less burdened families depicted on
television may have created a preference for fewer children,” said

Chong’s research on fertility and television also revealed a related
impact on divorce rates. Although the supporting data were not as
extensive, Chong found that the share of women that are separated or
divorced is also higher in areas that receive the Globo signal,
particularly in small communities where a high proportion of the
population has access to Globo’s broadcast. Such areas had an
increment of 0.1 to 0.2 percentage point in the share of women aged 15
to 49 years old that are divorced or separated. The increase is small
but statistically significant, Chong said.

The impact is comparable to an increase of 6 months of a woman’s
education, a very significant effect when taking into account that
average schooling for woman in the period was 3.2 years.

Soap Opera Influence

Sixty to eighty million Brazilians regularly watch evening soap operas,
or novelas in Portuguese. Globo has dominated in Brazil the production
of novelas, which usually portray a very specific model of family:
small, attractive, white, healthy, urban, middle and upper middle class
and consumerist. 

The setting is usually the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
Generally, happier families in the soap opera are small and rich while
unhappy families are poorer and contain more children.

The studies analyzed the content of 115 novelas broadcast by Globo
between 1965 and 1999 in the two times slots with the highest audience:
7 pm and 8 pm. Sixty-two percent of the main female characters had no
children and 21 percent had only one child.  Twenty-six percent of the
leading female characters were unfaithful to their partners.

Story lines in soap operas often include criticism of traditional
values. For example, the network’s 1988 hit “Vale Tudo,” featured
a leading character that would steal, lie and cheat to achieve her
ultimate goal of getting rich at any cost. Globo has also portrayed
modern lifestyles and female emancipation in novelas such as “Dancing
Days,” broadcast in 1978, in which the leading female character was a
convicted felon fighting to rebuild her reputation and the love of her
teenage daughter.

Decreases in fertility rates were stronger in years immediately
following the broadcast of novelas that included depictions of upward
social mobility, and for women whose age was closer to the leading
female character in the soap opera.

Soap operas also influenced the choosing of names for children. The
likelihood that the 20 most popular names in a certain area include one
or more names of characters of a novela aired in that year was 33
percent if the region received the Globo signal. In regions without
access to Globo, the likelihood was only 8.5 percent. 

"There is also suggestive evidence that soap opera content has also
influenced divorce rates," according to Chong. "When the leading female
character of a soap opera was divorced or not married, the rate of
divorce increased by 0.1 percentage point on average."

Globo versus SBT

The expansion of Sistema Brasileiro de Televisão (SBT), Brazil’s
second largest television station, didn’t affect fertility rates in
the country during the same period.

The studies attribute this result to differences in content. Globo soap
operas are written by Brazilian authors and produced in Brazil, while
SBT novelas are mostly imported from Mexico, or use “imported”

"The programs have to be perceived as realistic portraits of the
Brazilian society in order to affect behavior," said Chong.  "The public
can easily relate with the situations depicted in the Globo novelas." 

Globo soap operas also have much higher production values than those
produced in Mexico or in other Latin American countries. Globo spends an
average of around $125,000 per soap opera episode, or about 15 times
more than any network in Latin America.

In addition, Globo’s soaps are shot in easily recognizable locations
and depict a typical middle class setup that most viewers identify
regardless of their socio-economic status.

Eliana Ferrara, an economist with Bocconi University, co-authored the
paper on Divorce with Chong. IDB economist Suzanne Duryea co-authored
the study on fertility with Chong and Ferrara.

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