Study: Cable TV Could Help Keep Birth Rates Down In World’s Rural Areas

When you see a bunch of TV characters living in swank, unbelievably large city apartments, just palling around and being well, friends, doesn’t it kinda make you wish you had a similar life filled with drinking endless cups of coffee and decorating with kitschy, bright colors? What you see on TV often influences your life, and in the case of women in rural parts of India, having cable TV could be contributing to keeping the birth rate down.

Quartz takes a look at the burgeoning problem of India’s skyrocketing population, which will stress out the country’s resources and public services. The birth rate is still hopping in rural areas, which could present a big problem for that rising population.

One somewhat bizarre phenomenon seems to be helping out with lower fertility, however — cable TV. What in the what now? As it turns out, when rural women in five Indian states got access to cable TV, researchers found that over a three-year period of studying these areas, fertility declined within a year.

Watching the kinds of shows that have single, urban women living their lives baby-free is the key thing here. That’s what happened in Brazilian villages between 1970 and 1999, other researchers found, as women watched soap operas in the telenovela vein. On those shows, almost three-quarters of the female characters of child-bearing age had no children and only 21% had one kid.

It can’t just be any TV show, the Brazilian study noted:  “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.”

In the case of India, researchers also concluded that Indian soap operas featuring independent urban women could be an important part of pushing birth rates down. Those shows presented a shift in values for women, as fewer women in those areas found domestic violence acceptable or expressed a preference for male children.

Next up here, perhaps?: Whether or not watching too many episodes of New Girl will inevitably lead to an explosion in hairstyles with bangs and a penchant for adorably retro dresses.

The secret to bringing down India’s birth rate: get more women to watch soap operas [Quartz]