As is typical in demographic transitions, declines in mortality preceded declines in fertility in Brazil, but the process took only a few decades rather than centuries, as it did in developed countries. The death rate started to fall in the 1940s because of the expanding public health system, urbanization, and sanitation. The crude death rate in 1995 was eight per 1,000 population, a notable decrease from the 1960-65 rate of 12.3. The 1995 level, which is similar to that of developed countries, resulted from the age structure being still relatively younger.
Life expectancy at birth, which is a measure of mortality that is not affected by different age structures, began to rise in Brazil in the 1940s. It increased from 42.7 years in 1940 to 52.7 years in 1970 and 67.1 years in 1995. It is projected to reach 68.5 years in 2000 and 75.5 years in 2020. Life expectancy for women is about seven years greater than that for men, but the differential is decreasing.
A decline in mortality has occurred in all regions, but strong regional variations in life expectancy persist. The lowest levels are found in the Northeast (65.4 years in 1995) and the highest in the South (69.4 years in 1995), slightly higher than the Southeast. The North and Center-West regions have levels of life expectancy close to the national average. Within the socioeconomic strata, higher life expectancy is strongly associated with higher family income. Mortality is generally higher in rural than in urban areas, except for the lowest income groups.
In the past, the principal causes of death in Brazil were infectious and contagious diseases, especially diarrhea and intestinal parasites among infants, as well as tuberculosis, measles, and respiratory diseases (for a discussion of infant mortality, see Indicators of Health, this ch.). As these were brought under control in the postwar period, primarily in the more developed regions, degenerative diseases such as cardiovascular disorders and cancer became proportionately more prevalent. Deaths from external causes, including violence and traffic accidents, also gained importance.
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