New published demographic research by Albert Esteve at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, reveals Latin American society is changing at an unprecedented rate.   For generations people have been focussed on early marriage, family and child-rearing, but now co-habitation rather than marriage is becoming a norm and having children is being postponed.  It is the same picture we already see in many other countries.  However, Sao Paulo of the Economist observes that the change is happening “astonishingly quickly” in Latin America.  It took “rich” countries 50 years, with changes occurring in sequence, while in Latin America the changes have happened in half the time and all at once, resulting in faster, less predictable social change. 

The Economist case-studies 30 year old Ana Caroline Belchior, reporting that her family “traces the demographic history of a continent”.  She has been married for two years, but is still “scheduling” her first child.  She states that her main life goal is having a career.  In contrast, her mother and grandmother’s life’s ambition was to have a family.  Belchior comments that “it’s much easier nowadays for women of my age and educational profile [she has a master’s degree] to insist on proper behaviour from men. We don’t have to accept machismo and sexism.” 

Why is this change occurring?  Are we so much poorer than we used to be that women must work?  I don’t think so.  Contrary to the word ‘job’, the word ‘career’ is often tied up with personal fulfilment and financial gain is just a part of that.  Belchior’s comments about her mother and grandmother’s lives being much harder, and not having what she labels “sexism”, might be true, but such comments always seem to carry the implication that women themselves today think that to create, carry and feed children – necessarily the beautiful and sole domain of women at least in the early stages – is not all that valuable in and of itself. The implication is that maintaining a career is much more important and fulfilling. 

As a mother, you can’t help but feel sometimes that ‘just’ staying home with children for over the necessary year or two when they are babies is perceived to be not doing much with your life.  But what are people really doing at work half the time when you boil it down – surfing the net, typing standard form emails, manufacturing a product, creating a legal contract, paying insurance.  I myself work part-time, and I don’t think I would like it if the option for meaningful and fulfilling work wasn’t available to me as was the case in days gone by.  However, that doesn’t mean that I think working is necessarily the more admirable or personally fulfilling thing to be doing with your time when compared to bringing up children and looking after a family.  I think that those thing should also be valued highly – from out of good families come our future citizens and the shaping of little souls, as hard as the work may be.  And without sounding terribly 1950’s, there is something to be said for the good that comes to society from women who have the time in their days to bring a ‘women’s touch’ and listening ear to the lives of others in their communities, and indeed their own families.  One wonders if Belchior’s grandmother had more of that time than the career woman of today.

I think I may have mentioned it before on this blog – but I really like a quote made by Chesterton in the early 20th century about how women at work generally contribute to the lives of many people in very minor ways, while those at home looking after their children and family take responsibility for the entire souls of just a few.  Commenting on the rat race, he also says insightfully that “There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.” 

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...