JOSÉ MIGUEL GUZMÁN
Extensive social and economic changes have occurred in Latin America since the early 1960s. The level of childbearing and the pattern of reproduction were two important areas in which major transformations occurred. In turn, changes in these important demographic factors had strong repercussions on many other aspects of social life in the region. These changes did not follow any of the expected paths and they contradicted most predictions. Stated in general terms, the key aspect of these changes is that couples adopted new values and attitudes concerning childbearing and family size, which were reflected in changes in actual behaviour, resulting in a very different current pattern of reproduction as compared to that which had existed before 1960. Not only have the main demographic characteristics of the region changed in important ways, in the population as a whole, but in addition, the lives of individuals and families have changed.
From a natural or almost natural fertility pattern--which existed in most social classes in almost all countries--fertility changed increasingly and permanently towards a pattern of regulated fertility, in which those sectors that do not deliberately practise some control over their reproductive process or those who do not intend to reduce their family size by use of contraceptives or induced abortion, form an increasingly small proportion of the total. This new behaviour became a significant component of the everyday life of millions of people under apparently dissimilar conditions.
What is the real magnitude of this change and in what socio-cultural context does it appear? What are the causes of this phenomenon and what are its most important determinants? The chapters in this volume try to answer these questions. This introduction in particular reviews some of the broad social changes that occurred in the region before and during this stage of decline in fertility. It is expected that the chapters in this volume will serve as a general framework for more in-depth studies of fertility change.