Brazil is a country with enormous internal differences, not least socially and economically. At the same time, great progress has been made since the turn of the millennium to bridge these differences. More than 30 million Brazilians have been lifted out of poverty in a decade – but with the economic crisis that has followed, several millions are at risk of falling again below the poverty line.
During Lula da Silva’s time as president (2003–2010) various investments were made for welfare, including the family support program Bolsa família, which in 2017 came to close to 14 million poor families. A key part of the program is that low-income recipients receive cash grants by sending their children to school and allowing them to participate in vaccination programs. But the economic crisis erodes the program.
- Countryaah Official Site: Official statistics for population in Brazil, including population growth, density, and estimation in next 50 years.
Large sums were also invested in building new housing and health centers in the slums of big cities (see below). Furthermore, the anti-hunger program Fome zero (Zero hunger) was extensive. Lula’s successor as president, Dilma Rousseff, wanted to eliminate the extreme poverty in the country, perhaps the most important point on her agenda, through the Brazil Sem Misery program (Brazil without misery). But the sharp economic downturn did, however, have made the future of social initiatives uncertain (see also Economic overview and Current policy).
Although the proportion of poor people has declined since the turn of the millennium, 2017 lived close to a quarter of the population in poverty, according to the official statistics agency IBGE. That equates to more than 50 million people. Many millions live in extreme poverty, which is defined as an income per person that represents less than a quarter of the minimum wage.
The regional differences are large. The lives of the poor in northeastern Brazil and in isolated inner parts of the Amazon, as well as for the Swede farmers farther west, are in sharp contrast to the growing middle class’s existence in the cities in the southeast, where the well-off live behind fences with electronic surveillance.
Income is also still very unevenly distributed, although the gaps have narrowed somewhat in recent years. The census carried out in 2010 shows that 44 per cent of all income goes to the richest tenth of the residents, while the poorest tenth may settle for 1 per cent of the income. Put another way: six billionaires in Brazil have as large assets as half the population, or 100 million people. Whites generally earn more than twice as much as colored or black, men more than women.
Tens of millions of people are estimated to live in Brazil’s shanty towns. The mass migration from the countryside has created huge slums, favelas, around the big cities. They are often controlled by criminal gangs and are characterized by crime, unemployment, poverty, housing shortages and poor sanitary conditions.
In some places in São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, crime is worse than in the world’s war zones. Tens of thousands of people are killed in Brazil every year. The violent crimes are often linked to drug and arms trafficking. Few murders and other violent crimes are cleared up and the police have a bad reputation, not least in Rio. In 2008, a new strategy was launched with the constant presence of the police in the most vulnerable slums. The government also tightened the rules on gun ownership and quantities of small arms were collected for compensation. But in 2017, the number of murders reached a record level of just over 59,000, or nearly 64,000 if the deaths caused by the police are counted. The following year the figure fell by 13 percent.
It is unclear what was behind the decline, but in February 2018, then-President Michel Temer deployed military to maintain order in the severely violent state of Rio de Janeiro. It was the first time since the fall of the dictatorship that the military was given responsibility for domestic security. Jair Bolsonaro, who succeeded Temer in January 2019, implemented one of his first measures to ease gun legislation, which means that virtually all adults were given the right to buy weapons and store them at home.
Despite stricter legislation to protect children, there are still children living on the streets – unclear how many. Most support themselves through sales and other temporary work, but a lot of people beg, steal or prostitute themselves. Many people are addicted to drugs, they often sniff glue. Police have been charged with murder of street children.
The social differences especially affect women. Unemployment among women has risen since paid childbirth was introduced in the late 1980s, as many mothers are laid off. Teenage pregnancies are becoming more common: pregnancy is the most common reason for ten- to fourteen-year-old girls staying in hospitals. Abortion is only allowed after rape or when the mother’s life is in danger. Many illegal abortions are therefore carried out, often under primitive conditions. Violence against women is common.
The welfare system
Sickness, occupational injury and disability insurance exist, as well as old-age and widow’s pension, maternity allowance and family allowance. Medication is subsidized. However, the resources are insufficient.
The pension system in particular has long been in crisis. Pensions account for more than a third of central government spending and are growing faster than inflation (see Economic overview). On average, women retire at age 53 and men at 56, according to the OECD. Pension payments are unequal and largely benefit the well-off more than the poor, according to the World Bank. President Temer drafted a broad pension reform in 2018 but withdrew it as he lacked support in Congress. In February 2019, the successor Bolsonaro presented a new proposal that is more comprehensive. Bolsonaro is expected to have greater chances of getting through his proposal, although it will be reworked first.
The social insurance system is also strained, partly because many low-income private employees do not pay, or manage to pay their contributions.
According to the constitution, all citizens are entitled to public care. But the poor majority, who have the greatest health problems, must be met with an overloaded state care characterized by a lack of resources and corruption; For the well-off, there are private healthcare of high international standard. However, the preventative care, such as vaccination of children, has been improved through programs such as the Bolsa família (see above). Infant mortality rates have dropped substantially in the 21st century but are still high.
Brazil is estimated to have almost one million HIV infected. A program of free AIDS medicine was introduced in 2009 which led to a sharp reduction in the number of deaths in AIDS per year. Brazil has fought with the United States over the right to circumvent drug patents and manufacture its own AIDS medicines.
To address the widespread drug abuse, especially of cocaine, the government has put in place preventive measures and efforts are being made to combat the extensive drug smuggling from neighboring countries and at the country’s ports.
Adult children usually live at home until they get married and raise their own family. Households usually consist of a nuclear family, but it is not uncommon for grandparents to stay at home with one of the children when they grow old. The family and the family are highly valued. This may mean that the adult child who is getting married moves into an apartment in the same house as the parents. In crises, it is the family that comes to the rescue rather than the institutions of society.
In predominantly Catholic Brazil, the ideal is for people to be married before living together. But in practice, many people do not marry but still call themselves married because they move together, which is socially accepted. Sex outside marriage is common, but girls and boys are treated differently in this regard. Young boys are encouraged to have sexual relations, while young girls are often urged to “keep on”.
Women who work in wages continue to have the main responsibility for the home. The man is seen as a family provider, even though the woman works outside the home. Like other Latin American countries, Brazil is strongly influenced by machismo, a culture that values male traits higher than female ones. Divorce became legal only in 1977 and abortion is still prohibited (see above), but widely practiced. It was not until the 1988 Constitution that women were legally equated with men in all respects.
Brazilians are generally very dear to children. However, many children are born into families that already have more children than they can afford to care for, and therefore suffer poorly. Sexual exploitation of children, especially girls, is a major problem.
Quality childcare is difficult to find. Many women stay home with their children for the first few years if they can, or let the grandmother or grandmother take care of the grandchild while they work. In the middle and upper classes, parents often employ a child girl from poor backgrounds.
Brazil has a young population. Those in the middle and upper classes share lifestyles with most European youth. Poorer young people often start working early to contribute to the family’s livelihood and can therefore neither study nor engage in leisure interests to any great extent.
Gay people can usually live more openly than in many other Latin American countries. In the major cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo there are large groups of LGBTQ people. In June 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that discrimination against homosexuals is criminal, and thus instructed Congress to enact a law on it. Previously, there were laws in several states against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. Despite this, discrimination is common in practice. Violence against LGBTQ people is widespread and increasing: In 2017, 387 LGBTQ people are reported to have been murdered due to their sexual orientation. Same-sex marriage has been allowed since 2013.
FACTS – SOCIAL CONDITIONS
Infant Mortality: 13 per 1000 births (2018)
Percentage of HIV infected: 0.5 percent (2018)
Proportion of population with access to clean water: 97.5 percent (2015)
Proportion of the population having access to toilets: 88.3 percent (2017)
Public expenditure on health care as a percentage of GDP: 8.9 percent (2015)
Public expenditure on health care per person: $ 1,016 (2016)
Proportion of women in parliament: 11 percent (2018)