Cable and satellite television may be having an even bigger impact on fertility in rural India. As in Brazil, popular programming there includes soaps that focus on urban life. Many women on these serials work outside the home, run businesses, and control money. In addition, soap characters are typically well-educated and have few children. And they prove to be extraordinarily powerful role models: Simply giving a village access to cable TV, research by scholars Robert Jensen and Emily Oster has found, has the same effect on fertility rates as increasing by five years the length of time girls stay in school.
The soaps in Brazil and India provided images of women who were empowered to make decisions affecting not only childbirth, but a range of household activities. The introduction of cable or satellite services in a village, Jensen and Oster found, goes along with higher girls’ school enrollment rates and increased female autonomy. Within two years of getting cable or satellite, between 45 and 70 percent of the difference between urban and rural areas on these measures disappears. In Brazil, it wasn’t just birthrates that changed as Globo’s signal spread—divorce rates went up, too.