Léo Ramos Chaves Elza Salvatori Berquó is a specialist in statistics and demography with a special fondness for opening unexpected research fronts. Such was the case when she studied human reproduction in the city of São Paulo in the mid-1960s, at the School of Public Health of the University of São Paulo (FSP-USP), and for the first time observed a drop in the fertility rates of women in São Paulo. And in May of this year, she continued in the same manner, urging researchers at the Elza Berquó Center for Population Study at the University of Campinas (NEPO-UNICAMP) to immerse themselves in a new project to better understand adolescent suicide, which has been on the rise worldwide.
On August 8 this year, Berquó received what she considered to be the definitive accolade to add to her collection of awards and honors, when the auditorium at the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning (CEBRAP) in São Paulo was named after her. “This honor from CEBRAP was all I was lacking,” she says. “Now there’s nothing missing.” In 2014, NEPO, which she created in 1982, did something similar and incorporated the demographer’s name into the Center’s title. Recently, UNICAMP Publishing released Demografia na Unicamp – Um olhar sobre a produção do Nepo (Demography at UNICAMP: A look at NEPO’s production), edited by Berquó.
She has every right to be happy. When she was forced into mandatory retirement by Institutional Act No. 5 (AI-5, a now defunct decree implemented by the military regime) in 1968, Berquó felt utterly lost. Her research projects at FSP-USP were cut short and she was barred from entering the institution. The following year she had the happy experience of receiving an invitation to be one of the founders of CEBRAP, together with Fernando Henrique Cardoso (who would later become President of Brazil), José Arthur Giannotti, Cândido Procópio Ferreira de Camargo (1922–1987) and a selected few. “She arrived with an established project, already knowing what she was going to do, and showed us the revolution that was happening in the reproduction habits of Brazilians,” recalled Giannotti during the homage.
Elza Berquó was born in Guaxupé, Minas Gerais. Due to constant relocating by her father, a postal service employee, she decided to study mathematics at the Pontifical Catholic University of Campinas (PUC-Campinas) at a time when the family was based in that city. The opportunity to work at FSP-USP came in 1950, three years after she graduated. In her nearly 70 years as a mathematician, statistician, and demographer she founded and helped create schools, centers, and institutions and was the principal academic responsible for the formal, mainstream teaching of demography in Brazil.
She married twice. First to the mathematician Rubens Murilo Marques, who played a significant role in the early years of UNICAMP. Her second husband was the public administrator José Ademar Dias, to whom she stayed married for 36 years until his death ten years ago. By choice, she had no children.
Her 92 years, which she celebrated on October 17, are a limiting factor only with regard to the physical aspects. “Stop working; I never stopped,” she says. Until she suffered a fall, she frequented CEBRAP at least three times a week. She recently resumed her visits, though not as often. She mostly stays at home in the southern district of São Paulo, in a building designed by her friend, the architect Villanova Artigas (1915–1985), a professor at the USP School of Architecture and Urbanism (FAU-USP), who was also persecuted by the AI-5. The house—built to order by Berquó and her first husband—was completed in 1968 and became one of Artigas’s most admired works. Berquó frequently opens her doors to groups of architecture students, and documentary filmmakers who wish to show the interior of the house. It was in her ample living room, filled with memorabilia from her travels, books, and science journals, that Elza Berquó granted the interview below.
|Undergraduate degree in mathematics from PUC-Campinas (1947); doctorate in biostatistics from Columbia University, United States (1958)|
|The Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning (CEBRAP)|
|About 100 scientific articles and 26 books authored or edited|
If the social security reforms under discussion are approved, people will have to spend more years in the labor market before they can retire. This puts pressure on young people, who need jobs. Do you see any solution to this conflict?
No. What’s been happening is that people can retire at only 50 years of age because of their length of time on the job. Since they started working very early, they can retire early also. We don’t see the same thing in other countries. I don’t see anyone in Germany, for example, retiring at age 50. I think it needs to be worked on so it’s not unfair to anyone. Now, whether it’s the right time for the current government to do this is another story.
A forecast from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, IBGE, based on United Nations data from 2015, indicates that the profile of Brazil’s population is similar to that of more developed, older countries. Didn’t your own studies predict this a long time ago?
This question was studied quite thoroughly by us demographers. The first phase of the demographic transition in Brazil began more or less in the 1940s with the onset of the decline in mortality. The second phase occurred between 1960 and 1970 when we showed that fertility rates were falling. The person who really looked into this was the sociologist Vilmar Faria [1942–2001], at CEBRAP. In his analysis, families had needed to be large because so many children died, but some would survive and were the ones who could care for their parents in old age. One of the reasons for the fall in fertility rates could be linked to the evolution of social security: families realized that it wasn’t necessary to have so many children because in the future they would have retirement benefits. Another factor was the appearance of the contraceptive pill in 1965. And there was the media revolution, especially television, which also contributed to the fall in fertility.
Because all the soap operas, which always had large audiences, showed a model family that was small. I had the opportunity to interview several soap opera directors later, when I studied the influence of TV on the declining fertility rate. At the time, in 1996 and 1997, [the TV network] Globo was airing O Rei do Gado (The king of cattle). I asked the directors: “Is Globo responsible for you having a model family that’s small?” They said, “Not at all, we prefer soaps with multiple small, nuclear families because it’s more interesting, instead of doing it like the Mexicans, where you have the rich and the poor, and the good and evil in two large families.” That research gained a lot of fame. There was an important group of researchers who participated in the study “The social impact of television on reproductive behavior.” Anthropologist Esther Hamburger of USP was one of the coordinators of the project, which had the participation of researchers from CEDEPLAR [Center for Development and Regional Planning at the Federal University of Minas Gerais], NEPO, and the University of Texas in the United States. We did our research in the city of São Paulo and in Montes Claros, in the state of Minas Gerais. We wanted to see the real influence that television had in both a metropolitan city and a smaller city.
Are there other factors that help to explain the decline in fertility from the 1960s to the present?
The last factor is consumer credit policy. When you have credit, and consumer aspirations, you need to think about how to align this with the number of children. These four factors—social security, contraception, television, and consumer credit—in the words of Vilmar Faria, weren’t previously thought to reduce fertility rates, but, in one way or another, they did. Now, in the 21st century in Brazil, a woman has 1.8 children on average. Which means you might have either two, or one. We worked on one study, done at CEBRAP and published in part in Revista Brasileira de Estudos da População [the Brazilian journal of population studies], by ABEP [Brazilian Association of Population Studies], in 2014, about a phenomenon that’s happening now. Women marry later or don’t marry, and postpone reproduction. Suddenly, time passes by and they’re no longer able to get pregnant. Fecundity is one thing, and fertility is another. Fertility is the ability to conceive; fecundity is the ability, when having conceived, to deliver a live birth. They are different concepts. When a woman delays reproduction for too long, she places herself on the descending part of a fertility curve, which decreases with age. When she’s young, she is high on the curve. When she can’t get pregnant, she can use reproductive assistance if she can afford it. As fertility—and mortality—declines, we have correspondingly fewer births and thus fewer young people. But the other part of the population keeps living longer. Since there are fewer deaths and more left living, the aging populace increases.
How did the idea to research delayed reproduction arise?
Five years ago, when I was talking to demographers who live in São Paulo but don’t teach at a university, I noticed they felt a certain anxiety because they only saw other demographers at ABEP meetings. I didn’t feel it because I had my groups at CEBRAP and NEPO. I decided to create the Demographic Coffee at CEBRAP. Once a month I’d get these outside researchers together for coffee, with no agenda. They came from SEADE [the State Data Analysis Foundation], the Carlos Chagas Foundation of the Santa Casa Charities, and the Institute of Health of the São Paulo State Department of Health. We would meet up without any itinerary to talk a little about what each of us was doing. After talking about things for a while we decided it was important to study delayed reproduction. So after that it was different: we had an agenda. The SEADE staff had the data on São Paulo because they have access to birth certificates with the mother’s age, socioeconomic condition, etcetera. This project involved Bernadette Waldvogel and Carlos Eugenio Ferreira, both from SEADE, Sandra Garcia and Tânia di Giacomo do Lago, colleagues from CEBRAP, and Luís Eduardo Batista from the Institute of Health. We worked together until we finished the paper, and published the first work in the ABEP journal in 2014. Before that we did a seminar with this same team. In the article we confirm the drop in fertility rates between 1960 and 2010 and we show an increase in the proportion of births of first children among women between the ages of 30 and 39 in the period from 2000–2010. It was these data that led us to posit the existence of delayed reproduction, either temporary or permanent, in the women of São Paulo.
Is this the same project that got named “A woman of 30”?
Yes, it got this name because of the postponement of childbearing. Luiz Eduardo remembered, as a joke, a song by Miltinho [1928–2014], which is called “Mulher de 30” [A woman of 30]. In the first chorus, the lyrics say: “You, woman / Who have already lived, already suffered / Don’t lie / A sad goodbye in your eyes / We see it, woman of 30.” This memory ended up christening the project. Now we’re studying the same question for all of Brazil, because before we were restricted to São Paulo.
Is there any research yet that tells you if the data for the entire country are different from those of São Paulo?
We have some results, but we haven’t started the analysis yet. Over the course of my life I’ve learned that where there’s a crack that will let an idea through, it goes a long way. Maybe Sandra Garcia is already seeing results and drawing some conclusions about it. The speed of her work nowadays is so much greater than mine.
NEPO didn’t participate in this study?
No. I keep planting seeds in both places. When I went to NEPO’s 35th anniversary celebration in May of this year and it was my turn to speak, I warned them that I wouldn’t be reminiscing about previous activities. I’d already done that before, when NEPO turned 30, 25, 20… Instead, I suggested that the researchers reflect on an important global issue, which is teen suicide. This is my latest interest, which I am very focused on. I want to work on this together with CEBRAP. In Brazil, the issue began to get serious with a game that arrived from Russia, called “Blue Whale” [teenagers are supposed to meet 50 challenges that include self-mutilation; with the last task being suicide].
This isn’t the first time you’ve observed the behavior of young people.
In 2012 I launched a project at CEBRAP, together with the Carlos Chagas Foundation, called “Giving the young a voice.” We did it in two cities, São Paulo and Itapeva, [a small university city] in the state of São Paulo. I was very intrigued by the sexuality of young people. Even today, AIDS continues to rise among the young. Unplanned pregnancy too, even with the morning-after pill and various other means for avoiding conception. The question was, what do they want? Well, I thought I should listen to young people about their sexuality. So we put out a call to participate through the CEBRAP website. I needed the help of communication experts to come up with appealing language. The invite was carefully constructed word by word and then spread via social networks. The idea was for public high school students aged 14 to 19 to send in a narrative addressing any aspect of sexuality—love, sex, dating, desires, preferences, fears, and teenage pregnancy. We received 200 of them and selected the top 20. I needed that same committee that worked on the invite to help in consulting. Among those collaborating were Tânia Lago, Clarice Herzog, who is in advertising, Vera Paiva, a USP psychologist who works with AIDS, Sandra Unbehaum, the coordinator of educational research at Carlos Chagas, Maria Coleta de Oliveira, a demographer at UNICAMP , Alessandro de Oliveira dos Santos, from the psychology department at USP, and Jairo Bouer, a doctor and educator. Once the narratives had been selected, we offered screenwriting workshops at CEBRAP.
How did that process work?
Those who were selected took a 90-hour workshop. We had 20 narratives. In the first workshop each of the adolescents received all 20 narratives to read. They could choose the themes that they would be working on, together with the screenwriter. With the scripts ready, audiovisual director Paula Garcia would drive around the city with the teenager looking for the best environment to shoot a movie from what he or she had written. In the end they put out ten videos, each 10 to 15 minutes long, five made in São Paulo and five in Itapeva. Wonderful. They’re all on YouTube. Itapeva was chosen because I wanted to see what the youth outside the capital were like, and the city’s suicide rate was a little above average. I had already been troubled by the suicide problem and we decided to do it there.
And afterwards, what was done with these videos?
We screened them on an open stage, at the Heliópolis Cultural Center, in São Paulo. They were also viewed in the teenagers’ homes, together with counselors who work with the young people, to observe the families’ reactions. This was important to us because there are a lot of conservative people in the families. At this point, our work was over. Albertina Duarte, a physician at the USP School of Medicine, uses the videos when working with young people. Everything has been recorded, but we haven’t published an article with this story.
Has the research on suicide already started?
We’re seeking funding because we want to create an app. There are 123 apps for helping to prevent suicide around the world. In Brazil we only have one, which is terrible. There’s a very good one in Argentina, called Calma. When the person is in the depths of depression, they press a button and hear, “Calm down,” and begin to receive help. We want to make a good app. I’m setting up a focus group.
How did you come to the conclusion that there is a need to research youth suicide?
First, through contact with them. When they write their narratives, I feel like they’re asking for help. Same-sex relationships have appeared a lot in the stories we’ve received. Two of our videos dealt with that topic. According to what one of the young people told me, it gave his family quite a scare when they saw it. They were also screened with the help of Jairo Bouer. In the presentation we did in Heliópolis, some family members were frightened by seeing it, but this is a road they’ll have to travel. I approached a lot of young people there. Looking at the statistics, I thought that if young people know how to prevent AIDS and pregnancy and still engage in risky behavior it’s because they want to take risks. And if that’s what they want, it’s because they’ve already reached a limit of disinterest for what’s out there. That was my reasoning.
Let’s talk a bit about your career. You received a degree in mathematics in 1947 and a few years later went to work with professor Pedro Egydio de Oliveira Carvalho (1910–1958) at FSP-USP. What motivated you to leave Campinas?
PUC-Campinas, in my day, brought in teachers from abroad. The courses I took were very good. Mathematics changed my concept of belief. We were educated in Euclidean geometry. But I had teachers who taught me other geometries, where the parallel lines meet. It wasn’t that thing of meeting in infinity because the infinite was where God was… No. In the geometry of Nikolai Lobachevsky [Russian mathematician, 1792–1856], for example, the lines meet because his geometry is built on other axioms. Before coming to São Paulo [the city] I went to teach in a middle school in Capivari [in São Paulo State]. While on vacation with my family in Serra Negra, I met a young man who lived in the capital, also educated as a mathematician, who’d been invited to go to FSP-USP. Since he couldn’t accept because he was going abroad, he asked if perhaps I was interested. I made an appointment with Pedro Egydio de Oliveira Carvalho, who headed the Statistics Department. He was a physician and mathematician, a whiz at statistics. He accepted me, but he imposed his own rules. At the time there were a couple of Americans teaching at the School of Philosophy, Sciences, and Languages and Literature and I had to go with him to attend their classes. My job was to write out the entire class. When we got back to the college, I had to write out a clean copy, and he’d check it and say, “You took good notes.” When I went to do postgraduate work at Columbia University in the United States between 1954 and 1956, he said, “Send me a copy of everything you study there, so that when you come back you won’t know more than I do.”
What made you switch from math to statistics and then to demography?
Obviously, I liked math. But there was a certain determinism that made me feel hemmed in. When I got into statistics, I discovered that probabilistic models were delightful because things have a certain probability of being and likewise of not being. Those models enchanted me. I did a lot of good things in statistics. But there comes a time when we say, so what? What’s the explanation behind the results that makes everything happen? What are the social, economic, cultural, and political determinants behind all of this? I wanted to work with those elements. That is demography.
Did you come to that conclusion in the United States?
No, it was right here. When Pedro Egydio died prematurely at age 48, in 1958, I returned to Columbia for two months to prepare my doctoral thesis and to be able to compete for a professorship at FSP, which happened in 1960. Ruth Gold [1921–2009] and Agnes Berger [1916–2002] were two top statisticians who’d worked with Jerzy Neyman [Russian-born American, 1894–1981] a luminary of mathematical statistics at the University of California in Berkeley, who I later met and who was a big influence on me. At that time, Ruth and Agnes were at Columbia and said we could work together on my thesis. We chose to do statistical sequential analysis, something very new at the time, from the Hungarian Abraham Wald [1902–1950]. In sequential analysis, sample size is not fixed in advance. The hypothesis can be accepted, rejected, or require more work because there may not be enough evidence to make a decision on it. It was something different than hypothesis testing where sample size was fixed in advance. In order to have examples to use in my thesis, we collaborated with the medical school at Columbia and used one of their already concluded studies, on the use of two different drugs for premature babies. My thesis addressed the use of this statistical method as it relates to public health problems.
Five decades ago, demography seemed to be of little importance in Brazil. Today, public administrators practically don’t do any planning without taking it into account. When did this change begin?
I founded CEDIP [Center for the Study of Population Dynamics], the first center for demographic education in Brazil, at FSP in 1966. Earlier, I had ended up running the Statistics Department when Pedro Egydio died. Since the School of Philosophy didn’t have any statistics or mathematics yet, and I knew I would need both, I created a degree program for statistical mathematics with Rubens Murilo Marques, my first husband. I got a lot of support for this group. Now, in order to form the demography group, I invited the physician João Yunes [1936–2002], who became State Secretary of Health many years later, sociologist Neide Patarra [1939–2013], mathematician-sociologist Jair Lício Ferreira Santos, economist Paul Singer, and Cândido Procópio, also a sociologist, who years later would become the first president of CEBRAP. I already had the view that demography is multidisciplinary. With the exception of Procópio, who was older, the others were young people who left here with scholarships from OPAS [the Pan American Health Organization] to do graduate studies in demography, each in a different place. Yunes went to Michigan, Singer went to Princeton, and Neide and Jair to Chicago. Procópio was well known, and traveled throughout the United States and Europe to learn about demographics programs that could help us in forming CEDIP. An agreement was made between FSP and OPAS in which the organizations would underwrite graduate scholarships and salaries for five years. After that, the college would assume these expenses. As it happened, after we created CEDIP and started working, FSP did not honor those commitments. On the occasion of this deal with OPAS, the dean of the college was Rodolfo dos Santos Mascarenhas [1909–1979]. There’s an interesting story that happened during this period. I was a faculty representative on the University Council at USP. I went there with Professor Mascarenhas. The meeting was delayed in getting started and I asked him what was going on. Apparently, the student representative didn’t have a suit coat, was in his shirtsleeves, and couldn’t come in. I said, “It’s absurd that a student can’t enter in shirtsleeves.” Then they said to me, “But would you come in here in a bikini?” I said, “If I wore a bikini around on the street, I would.” With that I won the round. The student came in and some of the teachers tore off their ties. I can picture the image of that student to this day. He came walking in and I thought, “Is this what the University Council is all about?” I told Mascarenhas, “I really don’t want to come here anymore.” And I didn’t.
Before CEDIP, demography wasn’t taught or researched in Brazil?
Not in any formal way, linked to a university. Only at IBGE, in Rio [de Janeiro]. João Lira Madeira [1909–1979] was a demographer interested in educating other demographers. Giorgio Mortara [1885–1967], who came here from Italy, coordinated two important censuses in Brazil, in 1940 and 1950. Lira Madeira worked with him. IBGE was the only place where this was happening.
Then in 1965, you carried out your study “Human reproduction in the district of São Paulo.” How did that come about?
We did that study with this group: Paul Singer, Neide Patarra, and Maria Coleta de Oliveira. We had the censuses from 1940 and 1950. The 1960 census was done, but it wasn’t published until 1978. There are several different stories about that. A computer was used to speed up production of the data, but it had the opposite effect. One version says the data had been sent to advanced data centers, such as Chicago, to compute everything. Or the research material could have been in an airplane and the encryption could’ve been lost for some reason. Some people blame the disappearance of the data on the military regime, which began in 1964. And another story, according to sociologist Nelson do Valle’s version, says that the material with the results was lost inside a warehouse at IBGE itself. Since we didn’t have the data from 1960, we couldn’t see the drop in fertility rate because we only knew the data from 1940 and 1950. We kept our study restricted to the city of São Paulo and it showed that the fertility rate was already falling.
A few years later, the government implemented the AI-5 in December 1968, and you were terminated. The following year CEBRAP was founded. How did it happen so quickly?
It was due to the prestige of Fernando Henrique, who had the support of São Paulo businessmen who disagreed with the dictatorship, and the Ford Foundation, which made a large endowment to CEBRAP. In addition, his father and grandfather were military men, although this didn’t have any direct effect. It was a terrible time for me, living in this house, which at that time was distant from everything. The day after AI-5 started, I could no longer enter FSP. I lived here, far away, and became very isolated.
But this isolation became important at a certain point…
Yes, I wanted to tell that story. I hid some young people here who were part of the armed struggle. This house was in the outskirts of the city and it was easier to shelter people who were being pursued. Practically all of them, about ten, were later killed by the regime, as far as I knew, including a pregnant girl we hosted. They didn’t stay long: they came, they spent a few days, they left, and others came in their place. Nobody knew anybody’s name. Not my name, nor Rubens, my husband at the time—who was connected to the Brazilian Communist Party, as was Villanova Artigas. I was never in any party. The young people who stayed here got bored and asked for something to do. They painted those tiles with burned oil [she points to that part of the room]. They left that historic mark on this house. The house had just been finished and the tiles were made of natural brick.
Did Rubens ever get arrested?
He was arrested by OBAN [Operation Bandeirantes] in 1971. One day, we were both here on a Saturday, having coffee after lunch, when he suddenly said, “Don’t move.” He’d seen that there were people starting to come down the ramp toward our house. It was an OBAN group and they took him prisoner. He spent a few weeks there, even though his uncle was State Secretary of Public Safety at the time.
Why didn’t you return to the university right after the Amnesty, in 1979?
I had invitations from FSP, through Oswaldo Forattini [1924–2007], then director of the college, and from the IME [Institute of Mathematics and Statistics at USP]. With the 1968 University Reform that took place while we were banned from the university, my discipline of statistical mathematics went to IME, which was actually the best place for it. To decide between FSP and IME, I locked myself in the house for 72 hours to see which would prevail. My heart decided on FSP. When I told them I was coming back, Forattini told me that I would have to be approved by the Faculty Board, which I thought was obvious. But when it went to a vote, 50% voted against me. Forattini made the casting vote in my favor. With that, I decided not to return. Those who’d stayed at FSP were the most conservative people imaginable. I just stayed at CEBRAP, which turned out very well.
How was the move to UNICAMP?
In 1982, UNICAMP dean José Aristodemo Pinotti [1934–2009] invited me. I accepted on the condition that I would have no contact with university bureaucracy. I also asked for carte blanche to create a research center. This was in the creation phase of these centers at the university. He had already come to the conclusion that the departments were too isolated; they didn’t communicate with each other and he wanted to establish communications. The research centers he created did that. I created NEPO and coordinated it for several years, but I didn’t want to hold any positions, and I didn’t accumulate pensions.
When do you consider that the study of demography was firmly established?
It’s been established since the creation of ABEP in 1976, also with the support of the Ford Foundation, in the middle of the dictatorship. Today we have CEDEPLAR, at UFMG [Federal University of Minas Gerais], which is a beautiful center for demography, and NEPO. IBGE has made a lot of progress with the National School of Statistics, which does demographics, and there are others. Ford financed ABEP because it had already funded several centers of excellence, including CEBRAP. In their experience, centers of excellence by themselves weren’t enough. There needed to be something that connected them all, like the associations. Ford funded several of them, such as ANPOCS [National Association for Graduate Studies and Research in Social Sciences], during that same period.
What was your most significant work at CEBRAP? Do you have any favorites?
I worked on various important projects. One of the most interesting was the “National Study on Human Reproduction,” a multidisciplinary work carried out from 1973 to 1978. In a way it was a continuation of the work that we began at FSP in 1965, on the reproduction of São Paulo women, which had been interrupted by the military regime firings. It was a large study that explored the relationships between reproductive behavior and the various methods of organization of labor and production. It had an innovative theoretical/methodological framework. The research plan resulted from a theoretical effort in the search of typologies of Brazilian regions, which included two dimensions: the dominant forms of the organization of production in each region, and the ways each region interacted with the social division of labor during their development. In this study a typology of the rural and urban sectors of Brazil was set up in nine areas, from the rural servitude of Conceição do Araguaia in the state of Pará, to the capitalism and socioeconomic structure of São José dos Campos, in the state of São Paulo. This research strategy was set up by Vilmar Faria and Juarez Brandão Lopes [1925–2011]. The histories of each region were written by CEBRAP researchers, such as Cândido Procópio, Fernando Henrique, Juarez, Vilmar, Neide Patarra, Octavio Ianni [1926–2004], Bolívar Lamounier, Vinícius Caldeira Brant [1941–1999], Maria da Conceição Quinteiro, and others. Fernando Henrique, for example, researched São José dos Campos. This study involved CEBRAP in perhaps a unique way. It hasn’t happened again—at least not in demography. Another work I like very much is the “Program for the education of Black researchers,” carried out between 1994 and 1996. The MacArthur Foundation funded it with a donation of US$2.3 million.
Why Black researchers?
Now, we go back to the censuses. The item race/color was in the census of 1940, and that of 1950; the 1960 census wasn’t published; and in 1970 the military regime took out this information. There was a long period where we didn’t have any data about color. We didn’t know how the Black population was doing in Brazil. We felt the lack of that information. When the 1980 census came out, the Black population appeared there at the bottom, in every indicator. I thought we needed to do something. I began to study Black demographics, did a study on the reproductive health of Black women between 1991 and 1993, published papers, and we held several seminars at CEBRAP on this topic. I also wanted to know about Black researchers. The problem was that when we held open competitions for research grants, Blacks never won—white people won them. I decided to hold a specific competition with grants for Black researchers. In the first round of the program I prepared four researchers, all with degrees in social sciences. For two years they were trained to do field research and studied statistics and demography. Then they did their doctoral work. They also researched the health of Black women. They went out in the field, filled out questionnaires and then we did the analysis. We published this study. There is a video called Eu, mulher negra [I, Black woman], with some of the research findings. I did the second round of the program because the MacArthur Foundation thought the first was incredible. Today these researchers are working at universities throughout Brazil or international institutions.
After doing research on such diverse fronts, what are the subjects for demography research that still excite you today?
First, it’s the refugees. For example, NEPO has the Migration Observatory, coordinated by Rosana Baeninger. This subject is fundamental. In the area of reproduction it’s the delay issue. And there are the problems of young people, such as sexually transmitted diseases. Young people’s problems are all relevant.