Cable TV Is Some Kind of Birth Control


Fertility declined in rural villages in India and Brazil with cable TV access — because, according to two studies, women are inspired by the relatable childless ladies on soap operas (but not, apparently, to kill/cheat/impersonate their twin sister).

This Quartz article includes two too many jokes about forced sterilization that make me uncomfortable, but it’s otherwise pretty intriguing. One three-year study that looked at rural villages in five Indian states found that fertility declined within a year once a village got cable TV access. An earlier study in Brazil found that fertility likewise dropped as more Brazilian villages got on the cable grid from 1970 to 1999. But why?

Fertility only declined among poor rural women who could access Rede Globo, the network with a corner on the telenovela market. Why? Perhaps because, at a time in the 1970s when fertility was running at around 5.8 births per woman, nearly three-quarters of female characters of child-bearing age on Globo’s telenovela shows had no kids and 21% had just one child.
Also notable: When Brazilian women were exposed to imported TV shows, nothing happened. The authors note that “programs that are imported from Mexico and the US…are generally not perceived as realistic portraits of Brazilian society.” This suggested to them that “TV programs that are framed in a way that makes them immediately relevant for people’s everyday life may have significant effects on individual choices.”

Research from India didn’t focus on the influence of a single type of program but also concluded that Indian soap operas featuring independent women might be the reason behind the birth rate slump.


Image via Getty.

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