Slow in appearance, the transformation of the country’s demographic pattern is profound and, despite being measured not annually, but for decades, it has been surprisingly fast in some regions. One of these data that surprises by the intensity of the change has just been released by the Seade Foundation. Between 1970 and 2020, the participation of children in the population of the State of São Paulo fell by half. Of the people who lived in São Paulo in 1970, 30% were up to 12 years old; in 2020, children in this age group represent 15% of the paulista population.
There are obviously more children living in São Paulo today than there were 50 years ago. The population aged 12 and under was 5.3 million in 1970; today, it is 6.8 million (28.3% increase). The growth of the state’s population, however, was much faster, having gone from 17.7 million to 44.6 million people (growth of more than 150%), hence the notable decrease in the share of children in total.
The reduction in the younger population – with the consequent increase in the share of the elderly, which has raised the average age of Brazilians – is a national demographic phenomenon. It has been observed since the mid-1960s and started to show greater intensity in the following decade. It is, coincidentally, the period considered in the demographic study of the Seade Foundation, an institution linked to the São Paulo government and responsible for the production of state statistics that make up the national framework prepared by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE).
Statistical studies show that changes in birth and fertility indicators at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s anticipated the transformations that would appear exuberantly in the demographic statistics of the following years. In 1970, the birth rate was 37.7 births per thousand inhabitants. The fertility rate was 5.8 children per woman. The following decades recorded an uninterrupted drop in these indicators, with greater intensity in the last few. Based on the 2010 Census data, the birth rate had dropped to 16.0 births per thousand inhabitants and the fertility rate to 1.9 children per woman.
The study by the Seade Foundation does not contain the variation in the birth rate, but shows that the fall in the fertility rate, from 4.3 children per woman to 1.7 between 1970 and 2020, played a decisive role in changing the age structure of the population paulista.
A special feature of the study is that it shows that the sex ratio among children, which indicates the number of boys for each group of 100 girls, has been increasing steadily in the last 50 years. It was 102.6 in 1970 and reached 104.7 this year. This latter index is very close to the sex ratio at birth (close to 105).
The combination of the effects of urbanization on daily life, such as the greater insertion of women in the labor market and the increase in schooling, is seen as a major factor in the change in the fertility pattern in recent decades. At the same time, the reduction in mortality rates due to infectious and parasitic diseases, largely thanks to better living conditions in the city, helped to substantially increase life expectancy at birth.
These changes have increased the number of people of working age (at least until 2010) and also the elderly (over 60 years old).
The consequences on economic and social needs have been remarkable. Obviously, the demand for places in primary education is decreasing. But other demands have arisen. The aging of the population results in new deficiencies in the health area, in which treatments tend to be more complex and expensive. There is a greater need for family care for the elderly, in a phase of demographic transition where the family is shrinking and more women are working outside the home. Sustaining the social security system, which is already complicated, is made more difficult by reducing the number of taxpayers and increasing the number of beneficiaries.
These are challenges that society and the State need to face.