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Revista de Saúde Pública

Print version ISSN 0034-8910


IMHOF, Arthur E.. Possible consequences of increasing life expectancy in Brazil: the perspective of a European historical demographer. Rev. Saúde Pública [online]. 1987, vol.21, n.5, pp. 447-465. ISSN 0034-8910.

Those over sixty years of age accounted for 6.6% of the total population of Brazil in 1985, in the Federal Republic of Germany this proportion was 20.3% in 1984. As early as 1950 it had been 14.5%. This proportion will not even be reached in Brazil in the year 2000 when persons aged sixty years and older are only projected to make up 8.8% of the total population. Similarly, in 1982/84 life expectancy at birth in the Federal Republic was 70.8 years for men and 77.5 for women; in Brazil the figures for 1980/85 were, by contrast, "only" 61.0 and 66.0. Against this background it is easy to understand why the discussion concerning an ageing society with its many related medical, economic, individual and social problems has been so slow in coming into its own in Brazil. As important as a more intensive consideration of these aspects may be in Brazil at present, they are, nevertheless, only one side of the story. For a European historical demographer with a long-term perspective of three of four hundred years, the other side of the story is just as important. The life expectancy which is almost ten years lower in Brazil is not a result of the fact that no one in Brazil lives to old age. In 1981 people sixty-five years and older accounted for 34.4% of all deaths! At the same time infants accounted for only 22.1% of total mortality. They are responsible, along with the "premature" deaths among youths and adults, for the low, "average" life expectancy figure. In Europe, by contrast, these "premature" deaths no longer play much of a role. In 1982/84 more than half of the women (52.8%) in the Federal Republic of Germany lived to see their eightieth birthdays and almost half of the men (47.3%) lived to see their seventy-fifth. Our biological existence is guaranteed to an extent today that would have been unthinkable a few generations ago. Then, the classic troika of "plague, hunger and war" threatened our forefathers all the time and everywhere. The radical transition from the formerly uncertain to a present-day certain lifetime, which is the result of the repression of "plague, hunger and war", led to unexpected consequences for our living together. Our forefathers were forced to live in closely knit Gemeinschaften in the interest of physical survival and to subordinate their egoistic goals to a common value, but now these pressures have, for the most part, fallen away. Correspondingly, this much more certain EGO has taken center stage. An ever greater number of us chooses to live life as single beings: the number of marriages is lower every year; the number of divorces is on the increase; in Berlin (West) more than half (sic! 52.3%) of all households are already composed on only one person. For the last dozen years the annual number of births in the Federal Republic has been insufficient to ensure population replacement. Not a population explosion but rather the opposite, a population implosion, is our problem. Human beings do not appear to be "social animals", as was axiomatically assumed for so long. They were only forced to behave as such for as long as "plague, hunger and war" forced them to do so. When these life endangering conditions no longer exist and life becomes certain even without their being integrated into a Gemeinschaft then humans suddenly show themselves more and more to be independent single beings. It is not the percentage of the population that is over sixty or sixty-five that is decisive in this context but rather how certain adults perceive their biological lives to be, since they are the ones who organize their lives, who build communities or who are ever more often willing only to enter into means-to-an-end personal unions without lasting or close ties and mutual responsibilities. There are many signs which seem to point to a development in this direction in Brazil as well. More and more adults in Brazil are caught up in the deep-seated transition from an uncertain to a certain lifetime. A third of them die after having reached their sixty-fifth birthday. It therefore seems to me to be high time that one began to give more consideration to the other side of the story in Brazil as well. And who is more suited intensively to consider the long-term perspectives than those engaged in the public health sector in whose competence, after all, such aspects, as "life certainty", "life expectancy" and "age at death" belong?

Keywords : Demographic transition; Life expectancy; Demographic aging [Brazil]; Demographic aging [Germany].

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