09/07/2011 04:47 pm ET Updated Nov 07, 2011

Brazil's Girl Power: National Geographic Takes A Look At The Drop In Fertility Rate (PHOTOS)

In the September 2011 issue of National Geographic, Cynthia Gorney examines how Brazil's fertility rate has plunged below replacement levels, and provides a how-to guide for bringing down a developing nation's fertility rate without government intervention. Remarkably, in a country where abortion is largely illegal and the government doesn't promote birth control, many women from all social classes have made raising children a lower priority. As Cynthia Gorney's report states:

[The] new Brazilian fertility rate is below the level at which a population replaces itself. It is lower than the two-children-per-woman fertility rate in the United States. In the largest nation in Latin America—a 191-million-person country where the Roman Catholic Church dominates, abortion is illegal (except in rare cases), and no official government policy has ever promoted birth control—family size has dropped so sharply and so insistently over the past five decades that the fertility rate graph looks like a playground slide.

And it's not simply wealthy and professional women who have stopped bearing multiple children in Brazil. There's a common perception that the countryside and favelas, as Brazilians call urban slums, are still crowded with women having one baby after another—but it isn't true. At the demographic center Carvalho helped found, located four hours away in the city of Belo Horizonte, researchers have tracked the decline across every class and region of Brazil. Over some weeks of talking to Brazilian women recently, I met schoolteachers, trash sorters, architects, newspaper reporters, shop clerks, cleaning ladies, professional athletes, high school girls, and women who had spent their adolescence homeless; almost every one of them said a modern Brazilian family should include two children, ideally a casal, or couple, one boy and one girl. Three was barely plausible. One might well be enough. In a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Belo Horizonte, an unmarried 18-year-old affectionately watched her toddler son one evening as he roared his toy truck toward us; she loved him very much, the young woman said, but she was finished with childbearing. The expression she used was one I'd heard from Brazilian women before: "A fábrica está fechada." The factory is closed.

The full article by Cynthia Gorney appears in the September 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine, on newsstands now.

See the full gallery by photographer John Stanmeyer here.

See photos of women in Brazil below: