Television: It's not just for entertainment anymore.
Cable TV is a surprisingly effective form of birth control, according to several recent studies. Research has shown that the spread of TV throughout the developing world correlates directly with lower fertility rates. In other words: More TV, fewer babies.
How can TV transform social attitudes and behaviors? Soap operas and reality shows act as a window to the outside world, says author and journalist Fred Pearce in "TV as Birth Control: Defusing the Population Bomb," published in this month's Utne Reader. In rural India, for instance, economists Robert Jensen and Emily Oster conducted a series of interviews with women who had recently begun watching new TV programming. They found the impact on social behavior was dramatic; women
reported increased autonomy, positive changes in gender attitudes, and lower fertility.
The impact of a new TV diet on fertility was so profound, Pearce says, that it was equivalent to an extra five years of female education.
Here's an image created by Stanford University's Martin Lewis, which shows the correlation between fertility in India and TV ownership.
The history behind using TV as a way to affect birth rates started in Mexico during the 1970s, when Televisa executive Miguel Sabido introduced a series of soap operas dealing with contraception. Acompañame, Sabido's first telenovela, was a nine-month series that portrayed the benefits of family harmony by way of proper planning and contraception.
Phone calls to the government’s national population council increased from zero to five hundred per month; callers referenced the telenovela when requesting family planning information. From 1977 to 1986, during the time Acompañame and other similar soap operas were on, Mexico's birth rate fell by 34 percent.
Now known as the "Sabido Method," the introduction of soap operas promoting social change was hailed as a great victory. Mexico was awarded the United Nations Population Award as the greatest population success story in the world.
Pearce noted TV has the power to change social attitudes beyond the developing world: Consider the role of television in making LGBT culture mainstream.
Based on historical success, TV's surprising social influence will likely be harnessed for other social causes in the future. Until then, enjoy this 1976 clip from Acompañame, Sabido's telenovela intended to promote family planning. Maybe it'll change your mind about a few things.
Alexandra DiPalma is a producer for Fusion Lightworks, Fusion’s In-house Branded Content Agency.