Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Closer Look at Cable Television

I found SuperFreakonomics to be super interesting and entertaining. I was, however, frustrated at the lack of detail and methodology in the book. I know that this book is aimed for pop audiences and so this it to be expected, but I wanted to look every article up as I went. Since there were dozens of articles used as the basis of this book, I just chose one: The Power of Cable TV: Cable Television and Women's Status in India. Specifically, Levitt and Dobner's discussion of this issue stood out to me because there seem to be so many other correlates of access to cable television that and discrepancies in villages over time that I was not sure that this was feasible to prove. 

There were several things, before checking the article, that I wanted to make sure were controlled for: (1) income of the village, (2) closeness to urban center, (3) prevalence of other types of media (satellite television, internet usage).

Income was somewhat controlled for. In one of the two states used in the article, income was available and tested. It was found that income correlated with getting access to cable. Thus, it could be that as rural Indian families get more money, their attitudes towards women change AND they get cable access. 

Furthermore, access to cable was also associated with the timing of receiving access to cable. Since villages closer to towns were more likely to get cable, they are more likely to be modern anyways. Worldwide this seems to be the trend; there is a great dichotomy on social issues between rural and urban areas in the US.

This article does not control for access to other types of media. It could be possible that one town never gets access to cable because a competitor, satellite for example, got there first. This is not mentioned in the paper.

Furthermore, the results on women's status and cable were not as consistent as they were portrayed to be in the book. In fact, those with cable access thought  it was acceptable for a husband to beat his wife in more situations than those who never had cable. While getting cable access decreased the acceptance of abuse, there was a significantly larger differential between before and after cable and those who never got cable and those who did. This signals that there may be significant, unmeasured differences between the villages in question.

For the data on pregnancy, the results were even more volatile. The discrepancy between years for the non-cable villages was much greater than the downward trend in the villages with access. This signals that this paper may have been damaged by an insignificant sample size - approximately 180 villages.

In summary, the book was entertaining, but each point would have to be examined individually for this to be credible. For one, cable access is not a panacea for gender disparities.

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