Idiot Box Helps Smarten People Up

Good economists keep doing interesting work on the media. Here’s the latest.

The Power of TV: Cable Television and Women’s Status in India 
Robert Jensen, Emily Oster 
Cable and satellite television have grown rapidly throughout the developing world.  The availability of cable and satellite television exposes viewers to new information about the outside world, which may affect individual attitudes and behaviors.  This paper explores the effect of the introduction of cable television on gender attitudes in rural India.  Using a three-year individual-level panel dataset, we find that the introduction of cable television is associated with improvements in women’s status.  We find significant increases in reported autonomy, decreases in the reported acceptability of beating and decreases in reported son preference.  We also find increases in female school enrollment and decreases in fertility (primarily via increased birth spacing).  The effects are large, equivalent in some cases to about five years of education in the cross section, and move gender attitudes of individuals in rural areas much closer to those in urban areas.  We argue that the results are not driven by pre-existing differential trends.  These results have important policy implications, as India and other countries attempt to decrease bias against women.

I can see the policy announcement now. “AusAID has announced that it will scrap its Pacific Aid program, replacing it with a scheme to buy every Pacific Islander a television. The Minister said that he expected this to raise female enrolment, decrease wife-beating, and improve attitudes towards women.”

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1 Response to Idiot Box Helps Smarten People Up

  1. Verdurous says:

    Television, like many technologies, has potential for harm and benefit and has certainly brought both. Undoubtedly, it has helped liberate women in the second world. It has also allowed the persuasion industry (advertising) into our lives to convince us we need stuff we should do without.

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