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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Will Low Oil Prices Lead to More Teen Births in Venezuela?

Venezuela's economy is heavily subsidized by the government, whose chief source of revenue is the nationalized oil industry. This situation is OK as long as the population is growing at the same rate as the price of oil. But there are two problems in Venezuela: (1) its birth rate is still well above replacement--pushed along by early marriage and childbearing; and (2) the price of oil has taken a big dip. today pointed out that the result of these things is a huge increase in the price of condoms, and this is not a good thing.
A collapse in oil prices has deepened shortages of consumer products from diapers to deodorant in the OPEC country that imports most of what it consumes, with crude exports accounting for about 95 percent of its foreign currency earnings. As the price the country receives for its oil exports fell 60 percent in the past seven months, the economy is being pushed to the brink with a three-in-four chance of default in the next 12 months if oil prices don’t recover. 
The impact of reduced access to contraceptives is far graver than frustration over failed hookups. Venezuela has one of South America’s highest rates of HIV infection and teenage pregnancy. Abortion is illegal.
Venezuela had the third-fastest rate of HIV infections per capita in South America, after Paraguay and Brazil in 2013, United Nations data shows. The country also has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies on the continent after Guyana, at 83 per 1,000, according to 2012 data from the World Bank. This compares to just 4 per 1,000 in Germany and 31 in the U.S. 
On the auction website MercadoLibre, used by Venezuelans to obtain scarce goods, a 36-pack of Trojans sells for 4,760 bolivars ($755 at the official exchange rate), close to the country’s minimum monthly wage of 5,600 bolivars. At the unofficial black-market rate used by people with access to dollars, the cost is about $25, compared to $21 in the U.S.
It was only back in November that I reported on a push in Caracas to encourage young girls to stay in school rather than get pregnant. The price of condoms is obviously going to change that equation. At best, the argument could now be made that young people need to stay in school so that they can find a job that will pay enough to allow them to afford birth control. They certainly can't afford kids in this economy...

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