Cable television may promote gender equality and reduce domestic violence in rural India, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper. Women who were exposed to cable television over a 6- to 7-month period in India were less likely to report a preference for sons or complacency with domestic violence, and more likely to report autonomy in household decision-making, according to the working paper. In addition, more girls enrolled in school and fertility rates dropped.
The NBER working paper, based on surveys conducted in 2,700 households in the years 2001, 2002, and 2003, indicates that television alters behavior by exposing individuals to a new set of worldviews and lifestyles. Popular television shows like “Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi,” a family-themed show that takes place in Mumbai, exposed rural women to life in an urban setting where women have more equality, say the authors.
The paper also suggests that the growth of cable access could help combat female infanticide, son preference, and malnutrition–common problems among rural women, according to a study published in the journal Demography. The authors point out that changes in reported attitudes may not directly translate to changes in behavior, however, saying, “We may be concerned that exposure to television only changes what the respondent thinks the interviewer wants to hear.”
Still, the authors say that a change in perceived “correct” behaviors and attitudes reflects progress. Only 30.4 percent of rural Indian women are literate” the lowest rate in India” according to a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report. But access to cable television could help to fill educational gaps by up to five years, the NBER authors say.