The Power of TV: Cable Television and Women’s Status in India
The introduction of cable television improved the status of women in rural Indian communities.
In India, a preference for boy children has fueled sex-selective abortions and neglect of girl children, resulting in an unnatural, male-skewed population, which has been particularly pronounced in certain areas. Girls face discrimination in health care, nutrition, and education, more so in rural areas than urban ones. Over the last two decades, cable television has been introduced to rural villages. As previous studies have shown, cable television can influence viewers’ opinions and behavior. This study examines how the introduction of cable television impacts the status of women in rural India.
The introduction of cable in rural areas quickly produces large shifts in local attitudes on several gender-related issues such as women’s autonomy, acceptability of spousal violence, and son-preference, in a rapid timeframe between 2001 and 2003. With regard to many of these indicators reflecting women’s status, researchers saw the difference between urban and rural attitudes overall shrink by half within one year, with rural residents becoming more similar to urban dwellers.
- At baseline, 60% of women felt that it was acceptable for a husband to beat his wife under at least one of the six situations listed. After the intervention, women who lived in villages that had cable reported a 0.16 decrease in the average number of situations in which it would be acceptable for a husband to beat his wife.
- Addition of cable television in the village decreased the preference of a son by 12 percentage points. Additionally, getting cable was found to be associated with a decrease in likelihood of pregnancy by 3.7 percentage points as compared to villages that did not get cable.
- Female autonomy (as measured by an index focusing on the ability to go out of the home without permission and participate in household decision making processes) increased by 0.025 in villages that added cable, but there were no changes in women’s autonomy for areas that did not get cable TV.
- Introducing cable TV to homes also increased school enrollment for children age 6-7 by 5% the following year.
In short, when cable television is introduced to rural villages, viewers appear to emulate the urban lifestyle, values, and behaviors they see on cable TV shows -- leading to improvements in the status of women and their families in their own communities.
The authors used a three-year panel dataset collected during a time of rapid expansion in rural cable television access. The dataset contained information for 2,700 households, gathered through surveys of women aged 15 and older in 2001, 2002, and 2003 in four states and Delhi. The researchers compared changes in gender attitudes and behaviors between survey rounds across villages based on whether and when the villages received cable television. Surveys on electricity access and distance to the nearest town or city with cable providers helped control for access to television. The researchers noted that these changes in reported behavior reflect limited ability to observe changes in actual behavior, and that unobserved shifts in the broader social context may be partially driving results.