Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Soap operas are not always bad

We've heard many bad things about TV programs. From inducing violent behavior to promoting mysticism or obscenity. Recently, the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission blew their whistle to a famous reality show because 1) the hosts consistently throw sarcastic jokes, and 2) it starts at Maghrib prayer time with limited commercial break, so it doesn't give time for Muslims to perform their prayer (yeah, right!).

A recent work by Robert Jensen and Emily Oster shows that exposure to TV programs may have a positive impact on attitudes toward women in India. Using fixed-effects panel data regression during a period when cable TV services was rapidly expanding in rural India, they found "significant increases in reported autonomy, decreases in the reported acceptability of beating and decreases in reported son preference... [and also] increases in female school enrollment and decreases in fertility (primarily via increased birth spacing)." In terms of indicators, school enrollment and fertility are obviously observable. The other three are behavioral indicators. One can't observe it directly but will have to rely on the reported data.

The Survey on Aging in Rural India (SARI) data, which the paper is relying on, does have the information. On women's autonomy, the survey asked if the female respondents needed permission from their husbands to go to the market or visit friends/relatives. There is another question on who makes some important decision in the household, which deals with household decision making. On perceptions regarding domestic violence, the survey asked whether female respondents think that a husband is justified to beat his wife if if he suspects her of being unfaithful; if her natal family does not give expected money, jewelry or other things; if she shows disrespect for him; if she leaves the home without telling him; if she neglects the children; or if she doesn't cook food properly. Then, preference over gender of the children is measured by the question "Would you like your next child to be a boy, a girl or it doesn't matter?"

Although the authors did not specifically test which/what kind of TV programs are more effective, they mentioned that soap operas are the most popular ones among the rural women.
So, soaps could be the agent of change, then... Bukan begitu, Estella? Jangan tanya padaku, Esposito...


  1. I agree! While soaps shouldn't be viewed by all ages, because of their content, the show do really make the public alerted to the everyday issues in society. Thanks for the great read!

  2. Definitely -- it meshes well with a post I did recently on Awkward Utopia. Stigler in The Theory of Price conjectures that:

    "Tastes are not arbitrary “givens”: they evolve in a crucible of continual competitive testing. In a nation of island dwellers, it is unlikely that we will find many persons who dislike fish. Nor are we likely to find many vegetarians in lands well suited to grazing animals. Tastes so expensive as these are simply not likely to survive. The environment places limits on the variability of tastes among the residents of that environment. In one sense, the aim of civilization (including the growth of income) is to widen the tolerances of the environment."