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The findings

Both countries had experienced significant economic and social change over the previous two decades. In 1964, a military coup in Brazil installed a government that wanted to develop the means necessary to change the basis of Brazilian economic growth. It implemented a broad range of policies designed to stimulate the production of consumer durables and capital goods. This called for a high level of foreign and state investment. A policy of selective import substitution allowed for a degree of local accumulation, primarily at the industrial level. Economic growth accelerated, especially between 1965 and 1976, the decade of "the Brazilian economic miracle." During this period Brazil's GDP showed an annual growth rate of 10.4 per cent, which was 3.7 times greater than the 2.8 per cent annual rate of population growth. In spite of heavy importation and the introduction of modern industrial technologies, the economically active population increased between 1972 and 1976 and levels of employment rose.

However, modern growth in Brazil also exacerbated economic inequality. For example, the majority of workers suffered a severe reduction in wages, which fell by half. In 1981, it was calculated that a labourer would have to work 310 hours and 36 minutes a month in order to earn sufficient to cover his basic needs - food, transportation, rent, and taxes. Moreover, government policies on income distribution brought about radical changes in work stability. The Labour Law of 1966, while compensating laid-off employees, also facilitated their dismissal. These factors, plus economic and political repression, altered the composition of the industrial labour force significantly. As time went on, the massive entry of women into industry represented a new form of subsistence strategy in the low-income sectors. In 1950 and 1970 female participation rates in manufacturing were recorded as growing at an annual rate of 2.3 per cent. By 1980, the rate was rising to 10.7 per cent per year.

Meanwhile, in Argentina, the industrial structure was fundamentally altered by the military coup of 1976 that established a totally different socio-economic model based on monetary policies. Indeed, the recent economic history of the country can be divided into three main periods: before 1976, from 1976 to 1983, and from 1983 on. In the first period, from 1930, the economy was ruled by variations on an import-substitution model of industrialization. It was based mainly on the promotion of light industry, the expansion of the domestic market, and protectionist policies. As a result, the country experienced early industrial growth and the development of a strong and well-organized industrial working class, mostly concentrated in the Greater Buenos Aires area. After 1963, the growth in domestic manufacturing began to slow down, a trend that was never reversed in the years that followed.

In 1976, the military government imposed a radically new socio-economic model based on the opening of the economy through the reduction of custom duties, an overvalued currency, and large-scale financial reform. A group of labour laws froze real wages and severely restricted union activity, though wage negotiation was freed later on. The industries most vulnerable to international competition, such as textiles and clothing, suffered particularly in this period. As a result, industrial employment fell by 40 per cent between 1975 and 1982. The number of working factories was reduced by 18 per cent and 30 per cent of total industrial output capacity was idle. Contrary to what happened in Brazil, the general level of economic activity in Argentina started to fall off significantly. In 1982, GDP (8 per cent) was lower than in 1975 and diminishing. There was significant restructuring between economic sectors, the impact of which was most severe on industrial production and employment. Only in 1980 was the downward trend in productivity reversed, but output levels never reached 1974 figures again. The period ended with a severe imbalance in foreign debt and trade, hyperinflation, and recession.

Since 1983, new political and economic policies have accompanied the country's return to democracy. In the first two years there was a slight economic turn-round: the volume of activity in the second quarter of 1984 increased by 3.85 per cent. However, this partial recovery could not be sustained nor the hyperinflation reversed. There was a new start in 1985. New guidelines for industry introduced to reinstate Argentina in world markets included promoting the export of manufactured goods in combination with selective import substitution and capital goods expenditure. For the plan to work, investment capital and new technology were required, and in 1986 considerable incentives were granted to the local electronics industry to stimulate a new technological thrust. Industrial production and employment, including textiles, particularly in the cotton spinning and weaving subsector where most of the workers studied were employed, recovered slightly.

The textiles industry has existed for almost a century in Brazil; many of the current factories were established in the 1920s. It expanded during the Second World War but since the 1950s it has enjoyed only moderate growth. Between 1940 and 1980 employment levels remained quite stable, although manufacturing employment generally grew appreciably during this period. Employment levels in the industry in fact fell throughout Brazil between 1970 and 1975, mainly owing to the introduction of modern equipment, but they recovered in the latter half of the decade. However, the growth of the dynamic automobile and metallurgical industries meant that the importance of the textile industry markedly declined between 1950 and 1980. Its proportion of total manufacturing output fell from 18.7 per cent in 1950 to only 6.9 per cent in 1980. In 40 years, textiles, which had employed 33 per cent of the industrial labour force, came to employ only 1.5 per cent. In 1970, it was the fourth largest manufacturing sector; by 1980 it had fallen to fifth place as a producer and sixth place as an employer. The industry has seen three periods of equipment modernization: mechanization in the 1950s, automation on a moderate scale in the 1960s, and large-scale modernization, with the introduction of fully automatic shuttleless looms and rotary or open-end spinning machines, in the 1970s.

This last labour-saving phase is of particular interest to this study. The effects of the introduction of this type of equipment were most pronounced in the states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Output grew substantially in 1970 and 1975 in Rio de Janeiro (by 54 and 40.5 per cent respectively), while employment underwent a continuous decline (-18.5 per cent). Between 1975 and 1980, production diminished substantially while employment stabilized its decline at-1.6 per cent. The textile industry in this state was in crisis, and although it was traditionally a major employer of women, female workforce participation was reduced over these three decades, a trend that was only arrested and reversed between 1975 and 1980. During these years, women were absorbed into the industry more than twice as rapidly as men: female employment increased at a rate of 14 per cent, while male employment grew at only 6 per cent. The reversal reflects the behaviour of modern firms towards women: initially, modernizing textile firms tested their new capital equipment with male workers. Later, they preferred to recruit young and inexperienced female workers who could be paid less than men to operate the new machines that did not require skilled labour.

In Argentina, the textile industry also has a long tradition. Here it developed rather quickly, along with general manufacturing, especially during the Second World War. By 1950, it contributed 14.8 per cent of aggregated industrial value and 16.6 per cent of industrial employment. The industry tended to be concentrated in Buenos Aires Province where 65.7 per cent of the textile workers were. Its growth was quite stable in terms of both employment and production between 1946 and 1963.

Since the 1970s, the textile industry has become less dynamic. Employment and production decreased gradually during the period 1973-1983, except in 1982 when production increased by 21.82 per cent, though employment still showed a downward trend. The crisis in the industry was mainly the result of strong competition from imports after 1979. Although the years 1979-1981 saw the heaviest importation of new automatic machinery for modernization, initial entrepreneurial reactions to the new economic policy resulted in the closure of many factories and falling activity in the industry. In 1981, there were 12 per cent fewer industrial plants than there had been in 1980.

Female participation in the textiles industry was always significant: in 1946 half the women in the industrial labour force worked in this sector. In the following years, the proportion decreased nationally, but remained stable in Buenos Aires Province until 1976: it was 66.3 per cent there in 1974. By 1982, when the industry had been radically transformed, the division of labour had changed nationally to 36.6 per cent women and 63.4 per cent men. In 1985, labour unions had a female participation rate of 39.9 per cent; 95 per cent of the textile workforce in Argentina belonged to trade unions. In general, the textiles labour force was somewhat older than that in Brazil, 47 per cent of the workers being concentrated in the 21- to 30-year-old age-group.

Petrópolis, the site of the Brazilian study, is a city 60 kilometres from Rio de Janeiro with a century-long tradition of manufacturing textiles and clothing that was reinforced during the 1960s by the establishment of knitting firms. In 1970, the textile industry was responsible for almost half the industrial employment and output in the municipality. However, these proportions began to fall between 1970 and 1980, owing to extensive industrial diversification in the area, the shift of the industry to other Brazilian states, and a crisis in the local textile industry. Between 1970 and 1975, textile employment fell significantly in Petrópolis (-24.2 per cent), although output grew by 33 per cent, partly thanks to modernization. Between 1975 and 1980, both employment and output in the industry had negative growth rates (-1.7 and -2.3 per cent respectively). However, in July 1984, the industry was still the largest single source of local employment. It employed 29.9 per cent of the city's industrial labour force (3,751 employees) and its proportion of female workers (66.7 per cent) was higher than in the textile industry nationally.

San Martín, the site of the Argentina study, is situated 16 kilometres from Buenos Aires and occupies an area of 56 square kilometres within what is known as the Greater Buenos Aires district. For a century, most of the country's textile production and employment has been concentrated here. In 1974, 13.2 per cent of national textile production and 13.3 per cent of employment in the industry was in San Martin. This corresponded to 27.2 per cent of provincial textile production and 23.2 per cent of provincial textile employment. In the district, textiles were the second source of industrial activity in 1980, with a 20 per cent share of the area's production. Since 1976, the national crisis in textiles which accompanied the general economic downturn has affected the local industry. However, in 1981, in spite of the recession, San Martin's textiles plants increased by 4.6 per cent compared to the previous year. Contrary to recent national trends, local textile firms have continued to absorb an important proportion of women. In 1985, 53 per cent of the workers in the San Martin textile plants were female.

The general demographic profile of both the populations studied (1,073 people in Brazil and 1,015 in Argentina) is similar to that found in the most representative censuses of low-income groups in Latin America. On the whole, these populations are rather young with a low ratio of males, a high proportion of economically active people and household members who contribute personal earnings to the family budget, and low dependency rates; a majority of the women are in the labour market.

Textile workers have made up a significant proportion of the economically active population of these groups. However, the textile tradition of large households with several members working in the sector tended to disappear faster in Argentina than in Brazil, thanks to modernization and the economic crisis. In Brazil, 52 per cent of the sampled households still had more than one member employed in textiles, particularly within the traditional subsector.

The population studied was slightly younger in Brazil than in Argentina, while the latter has a somewhat higher ratio of males. In Brazil, 73.3 per cent of those involved were between 14 and 59, 4.3 per cent were over 60, and 21.9 per cent were under 14; in Argentina the figures were 69.5, 5.2, and 23.3 per cent respectively.

More men than women continued in the labour market in their sixties in Argentina. In Brazil, where pension rights become available earlier, men tended to enter the workforce younger and became entitled to an industrial worker's pension after 25 years' work. Nobody under 14 in the Argentina sample was employed. Brazilian children tended to arrange various kinds of paid informal jobs and errands, or else they contributed to family income through student scholarships, which were usually not available to low-income groups in Argentina. The employment of apprentices, normally adolescents between 14 and 18, is regulated by law in Brazil. However, factories and shops often offered work to children under 14.

Both the populations studied had high schooling rates compared to other local low-income groups. Textile workers in Petrópolis enjoyed relatively better paid and more stable employment and 51.2 per cent of the children in the sample were attending school. Proportionately more girls than boys were enrolled, as the latter begin to participate in income-generating activities earlier. However, only 7.2 per cent of the sample was attending secondary school. For most Brazilian workers, schooling means only rudimentary levels of education: the fourth class is the minimum required to be legally considered literate and to obtain formal employment. In the Argentinian sample, 28.8 per cent of the males and 26.8 per cent of the females were involved in some form of schooling at the time of study, with some of the boys in relatively high levels of secondary schooling.

Households, Income, and Management

Nuclear families make up almost half the households in both countries. They were usually (70 per cent in Argentina and 51.1 per cent in Brazil) made up of three to four people. The interviewee was generally a married member of the household. Single workers tended to live with their families of origin. There were more nuclear families in the Brazilian sample and more extended families in the Argentina group (66.9 and 7.3 per cent respectively in Brazil, and 41.5 and 14.5 per cent in Argentina). There were larger households and a wider range of family sizes in the Brazilian sample, and fewer single-person units (2.3 per cent of households compared to 5.4 per cent in Argentina). Very large households, with eight or more members, were more frequent in Brazil (14 cases); there were 13 people in the largest family interviewed.

Almost half the households studied could be classified as middle or high income in relation to other working-class groups. These households were usually made up of four members whose combined earnings were between three and five times the minimum prevailing wage. In December 1987, this meant the equivalent of US$168-280. The monthly minimum wage was equal to US$56, and, with the criterion of two minimum wages per household to indicate the poverty line, 53.3 per cent of Brazilian households fell below it.

The poorest families made up 10 per cent of the households studied in each country. They were mostly associated with the traditional subsector. Families where the worker interviewed was employed in the modernized sector tended to be slightly better off in both samples. Of course, total income does not depend on household size, but on the number of contributors to the unit's income. In Brazil, where wage scales differed considerably and activities in the informal sector were particularly important, total household income also depended greatly on the type of remunerative work done by all concerned.

Table 4. Forms of household income management among one-income married couples (percentages)

Provider Argentina Brazil
Provider as sole manager Joint management Other Provider as sole manager Joint management Other
Woman sole provider 50.6 20. 0 24. 0 85.7 7.1 7.2
Man sole provider 19.7 40.9 39.4 50.3 22.2 27.5

In 59.6 per cent of the households studied in Brazil and about 70 per cent of those in Argentina, there were two people- the interviewee and his or her spouse contributing to family income. All members were earning in 15 households. There were twice as many households with a sole provider in Argentina as there were in Brazil. This may be partially explained by Argentina's generally better industrial conditions: higher and more consistent wages, greater employment stability, and compensation for dismissal. It could also be partly attributed to the way in which women's reproductive role militates against their employment continuity, as analysed below. The sole income-earners were usually men, though in Argentina 18.5 per cent of single-income households were maintained by women. In Brazil, there were two male sole-provider households for every one dependent on a woman's income. In Argentina, employer strategies to cope with the economic crisis often led to male unemployment. In Brazil, the situation was more frequently characterized by high turnover rates, the changing of jobs between firms within the sector, and reduced wages. In spite of the prevalence of sole-provider households in the surveys, especially in Argentina, income was managed jointly in about half the households studied in both countries. However, when considering information on this point, it is well to remember that concepts and practices of sharing financial control varied considerably.

As table 4 shows, in Argentina, when the female interviewee was the only provider of household income, she was usually also the sole administrator; she shared its management with her husband in only 20 per cent of the cases. However, this trend was virtually reversed when the husband was the only earner: only 19.7 per cent of sole male providers also managed the income. Forty-one per cent of them shared this task with their wives. In Brazil, the vast majority of sole female earners administered family income alone; very few of them shared this with their husbands. Men sole providers were the sole administrators in half of the cases, and joint managers with their wives in just under a quarter. Thus there were important differences between the practices in the two countries.

The generally higher rate of female management in Argentina, where the woman usually managed the family income, either alone or jointly, regardless of who earned it, related more to a woman's role in the family than to her earnings: women were considered to have a greater awareness of family needs. Even in cases where both contributed to family income, it was managed by the woman alone in 25 per cent of the sample. There was no case in which a man administered jointly earned income alone. However, as the qualitative information presented later will indicate, these women did not necessarily have much financial autonomy. They had the formal management, rather than the control, of household income: they allocated day-to-day expenditure, but they were not able to direct the use of surpluses, for example to non-routine repairs or vacations. In fact, unless they provided the income, they were more likely to be managing funds according to decisions made by their husbands than they were actually to control expenditure themselves. Brazilian women were less involved in the administration of family income, whether they provided it or not. Contributing to household income gave them better access to its management, but in any case they were mainly executing decisions taken by men.

It was unusual for younger household members in either country to manage family income, even when they provided part of it. In Brazil, 55.9 per cent of the young workers who lived with their family of origin had no part in its control or administration. In both countries, young couples tended to share the responsibility for providing and managing household income more frequently than older married couples.

When considered individually, that is, not as part of their households, the 260 textile workers interviewed in each sample belonged mainly to the two lowest income brackets. There were more women than men in this category, which included 72.8 per cent of the Brazilian female workers and 54.9 per cent of the Argentinian women. The Brazilian workers were the worst paid of all in the two samples, reflecting modernization and employment strategies there which favoured cheap female labour. Age had little effect on the distribution of workers into these two low wage brackets, particularly in Argentina.

In general, the working classes in Brazil were poorer than the proletariat in Argentina, and the Brazilians interviewed were somewhat poorer than the Argentinians: 69 per cent of them earned only up to the minimum salary criterion, compared to 47 per cent of the Argentinians. Brazilian textile workers earned, on average, the equivalent of US$120 monthly, a little bit more than two minimum wages, while the Argentinian average equalled US$200 (December 1987). The wages of those interviewed varied in relation to workers' wages in other formal or informal sectors within their respective countries. The Petrópolis textile workers formed a relatively prosperous population, particularly because they enjoyed relatively stable employment. Brazilians who worked in the informal sector generally earned less than the minimum wage, often less than half of it. Only 65.2 per cent of the country's total employees made between half and twice the minimum wage in 1983. Still, the wages of a Petrópolis textile worker were a half to a third lower than those of the average skilled metalworker, who belonged to the most highly paid sector of the working class in Brazil. In any case, a Brazilian worker earning up to two minimum wages, like the majority of those in the Petrópolis sample, had to spend 60 per cent of his or her wage on food alone to obtain only half the daily requirement of protein and calories. The San Martin textile workers, on the other hand, were not relatively better off than other waged workers in Argentina.

The majority of the workers interviewed - 65.8 per cent of the Argentinian and 63.5 per cent of the Brazilian workers - tended to contribute more than half their wages to the family income: the lowest contributors to household income were the younger workers. Forty-four per cent of the young Brazilian workers contributed up to 39 per cent of their household income. The pattern was similar in Argentina, though relatively more women there made the highest and/or only contribution to family income.

The importance of the textile workers' earnings to total family income was high in both countries, particularly among those in the modernized sector in Argentina. Those working in the traditional sector tended to rely on more members of the household being employed. This was also a frequent strategy in Brazil. The need to support the domestic group meant that most workers withheld a very small proportion of their earnings for personal expenses. Ninety-eight per cent of the Argentinian men and 79.3 per cent of the women there did not keep back any part of their wages, or they kept less than half, compared to 67.1 per cent of the men and 65.3 per cent of the women in Brazil. Married workers kept back less income than single workers. Money handed over for household expenses was often put into a common fund, the formal administration of which was usually in a woman's hands.

Gender differences were slightly more marked in Argentina, where relatively more women retained something of their wages for themselves. Contrary to the male custom, the women increased their savings when they were better paid. The practice of setting aside a part of their wages for personal needs did not necessarily seem to make workers more independent of family decision-making, nor did it give women more autonomy. The money retained was put to very different uses in the two countries and spending decisions were taken on different grounds by each gender. Women tended to regard a wider range of spending as personal expenditure, considering shopping for their children as a major part of this. They directed the money they saved to items for others. This trend was even more marked when they contributed less to family income, so they often played an indirect role in the distribution of household income.

Men, on the other hand, saved money for themselves, spending it mainly on leisure and personal items and, to a lesser extent, on home purchases or house-building. In both countries, the women consulted others on expenditure less than the men did, as they tended to have a better idea of the needs of family members. The more money the women provided to their household, the more they could manage this money and take real decisions about how to spend it, regardless of whether or not they were the formal administrators of household income. Among males, the degree of participation in the administration of the total family income did not seem to be in direct relation to their decisions on spending. They could always take any surplus. The younger Brazilian workers were inclined to use the money they saved on themselves to buy clothes and pay for leisure activities. In Argentina, this type of personal expenditure, especially by young, single people, was more controlled by other household members.

Domestic Work

The majority of the workers, 81.5 per cent in Argentina and 73 per cent in Brazil, participated in housework. However, very well marked gender differences were discernible, the greater burden of housework resting on the women. Among the female workers, 97.2 per cent of the Brazilians and 98.5 per cent of the Argentinians were responsible for this. These women spent long hours daily in the factories and travelling to and from work during the week, and it was common for them to spend part of their Sunday doing even more domestic tasks than they did on weekdays. Women in both countries tended to do the heavier jobs like household cleaning and laundry on Sundays. In Brazil, 83.3 per cent of the women did housework on weekends while 93.8 per cent did it on Sundays. The percentage of male and female workers doing housework on Sundays was slightly higher than on weekdays in both Argentina and Brazil. A very high proportion of men - 70.4 per cent in Brazil and 73.3 per cent in Argentina - did not usually participate in domestic work on weekdays. However, the rate fell to 51 per cent when only married men were considered. Of them, 30.4 per cent declared that the housework was done by their spouses and 14.7 per cent said it was done by their spouses and children. Young single female workers did not do household tasks on Sundays in Brazil, or on weekdays in Argentina.

The median time devoted to housework was greater in Brazil than in Argentina. Fifty-one per cent of Brazilian women spent up to four hours on housework on weekdays, and 32.4 per cent devoted more than this to it. Fifty-three per cent worked more than four hours and 41.3 per cent did four hours or less. Men, on the other hand, devoted no more than three hours per weekday to such tasks and no more than four hours on Sundays. In Argentina, the time most workers allotted to domestic chores was two hours per day. In general, the older people did more housework than the younger, and they did it in longer time-spans. Twenty-three per cent usually devoted three hours to domestic labour, 18.5 per cent spent two hours on it, and 16.9 per cent worked four hours every day. Among the young cohort, the frequencies show that 27.7 per cent did two hours a day, 16.2 per cent four hours, and 11.5 per cent three hours.

The types of chores were similar in both countries, but again they varied substantially according to gender. Women engaged mainly in cooking, cleaning, straightening the house, and washing dishes. Child care was a secondary task, usually combined with the others. Laundry and ironing, while almost exclusively female tasks in Argentina, were also sometimes done by men in Brazil. There was a more pronounced difference between the countries in the type of domestic work most frequently done by men. While the principal jobs Argentine men did included some cooking, straightening the house, and washing dishes, they undertook some shopping and child care (by which they frequently meant playing and entertainment). Brazilians reported only sporadic involvement in child care and they distributed their domestic participation more between shopping (17.4 per cent) and cooking (13 per cent). Washing dishes, cleaning the house, and caring for children were tasks less frequently performed by Brazilian men. Their involvement in housework was in any case dispersed and discontinuous, although 7 per cent of them sometimes prepared meals on Sundays.

It was rare to find married couples sharing the housework. Even when men did share responsibility for it, this did not mean that the number of jobs or the time spent on them was symmetrically apportioned. Though the degree of sharing was not necessarily equitable, the greatest co-operation between spouses was found among young couples, those with children in Brazil and those with or without children in Argentina. In Argentina, there was more sharing between spouses working in the modern sector; in Brazil, family co-operation was higher in the traditional sector. The degree of co-operation always related more to gender than to any other variable. The greatest co-operation was between women belonging to the same household. Family support clearly reduced the burden of household chores upon the individual woman. For example, in Brazil, work that would take an individual a median of six hours could take only four hours when done with other women.

Contraception and Abortion

Knowledge about sexuality and birth control was relatively widespread in both the samples studied, and there was a high level of awareness of most of the methods about which the interviewees were questioned. Half the Brazilian workers knew six of the nine methods mentioned; the Argentinians recognized seven of the ten about which they were asked. In Brazil, however, there was a certain polarity between those workers (29.2 per cent, the modal value) who knew of all the contraceptive methods and the 12.3 per cent who knew no methods at all. To some extent this indicated the generally uneven distribution of knowledge among the population. However, it also reflected the reluctance or discomfort of the interviewees when the topic was raised. They often resorted to an immediate answer - either affirmative or negative - about all methods. The most valid responses came from those who showed a more positive attitude towards the subject. This embarrassment and uneasiness was less frequent among the Argentinian workers, who seemed to have a more even knowledge of a wide range of methods; only 0.8 per cent of them declared themselves totally ignorant of any form of contraception and only 7.3 per cent said they knew them all.

Table 5. Non-users of contraceptive methods (percentages)

  Brazil Argentina
Women 56.6 38.6
Men 77.1 59.2

The men appeared to be better informed about more methods than the women, especially in Argentina. Single women in Brazil had the lowest levels of knowledge; 11.4 per cent knew no methods, compared to 3.9 per cent of the single men there. In order to investigate the quality of contraceptive knowledge, methods were grouped according to the frequency with which they were known by the sample population. The category of "least common knowledge" included the most well-known techniques (pills, condoms, abortion, tubal ligation and natural methods), plus others like diaphragms, IUDs, suppositories, and vasectomy. "Least common knowledge" represented modal values in both countries. Gender differences in relation to the "quality of knowledge" code were not significant in either country.

However, there were significant gender differences between the countries when it came to the best-known methods. For the men in both countries and the Brazilian women, the best-known methods were the pill and the condom, with natural methods ranking second. For Argentine women, it was abortion followed by natural methods. In contrast to Brazil, men in Argentina had heard little about tubal ligation and vasectomy, although the young there seemed more knowledgeable. Brazilians working in the modern sector know more than the others, probably because of factory attitudes to contraception. In both countries, however, there was little correlation between the knowledge and practice of contraception: high levels of knowledge did not necessarily result in high usage.

As table 5 shows, more than half the Brazilian women interviewed (the majority of whom were of childbearing age) did not take contraceptive precautions. Even fewer men did so. The proportion of non-users was lowest among Argentinian women. Actual birth-control practices will be considered in more detail when analysing the life-histories by age and gender, but this gap between knowledge and practice deserves closer attention. It might be thought that it was related to poverty, but women had relatively simple access to free pills in Brazil and cheap ones in Argentina. Condoms were also available for those on low incomes, and information on natural methods costs nothing. Deeper motives rooted in traditional gender stereotypes appeared to be more important than economic constraints. The life-histories showed how birth control was influenced by the concepts both genders had of woman's role in society as a mother of children, and of her basic responsibility for the consequences of her sexual life.

Table 6. Female acceptance of abortion (percentages)

Acceptable circumstances Brazil Argentina
Under no circumstances 21.5 36.4
Life-threatening conditions and/or foetal defect 45.5 31.1
Likely loss of job and/or lack of economic means 12.7 14.4
No wish to have any, or any more, children 5.1 4.5
Other (or no answer) 15.2 13.6

Table 6 shows the circumstances under which the women interviewed would have an abortion. Most women, particularly those who were married, with or without children, would only resort to abortion if life were endangered and/ or there were foetal problems. A higher proportion of the Argentinian women declared that under no circumstances would they seek an abortion. Most who responded like this were younger workers. In contrast, hardly any of the young Brazilians held this view. Very few women in either country would seek an abortion to avoid having more children or if they wanted none at all.

Regardless of marital status or number of children, the women in both samples were almost equally divided between those who would consult their partner about a possible abortion and those who would decide alone. In Argentina, there was a correlation between the degree of autonomy on abortion decisions and knowledge of contraceptive methods. This trend was not so definite in Brazil. Regardless of whether or not they used birth control, most women gave physical danger or impairment as the main grounds for abortion. Other non-users said they would seek an abortion if their spouses or families disapproved of their pregnancy. Gender stereotypes seemed to have a stronger effect on Brazilian women's attitudes to abortion than on their knowledge or actual use of contraception.


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