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Television and International Family Change: A Randomized Experiment

a PSC Research Project

Investigator:   Arland Thornton

Television access has grown rapidly around the globe and television now occupies a prominent place in daily life in many societies. Accompanying the spread of television have been substantial changes in many aspects of family life, including youth autonomy and parental authority, spouse selection and marriage timing, the structure of reproductive careers, and gender and intergenerational relationships. The simultaneity of these changes has led many – both casual social commentators and scholars -- to conclude that television exposure is one cause of these family changes. Indeed, the power of television is so generally accepted that public and private agencies use television as a deliberate tool for changing reproductive and health behaviors (e.g. contraception and HIV risk behaviors).

The social impact of television, however, remains in dispute and there is little agreement on the nature or extent of its effects. Prior research has been largely correlational and without a valid counterfactual it has not been possible to generate estimates of causal impact. Furthermore, little is known about the mechanisms underlying the observed associations (Hornick & McAnany, 2001). To permit valid assessment of television’s causal impact, this study will employ an experimental design in which 14 remote, rural, unelectrified villages will be stratified into 7 matched pairs, with one village in each pair randomly selected for the introduction of television. Baseline data will be collected using mutually reinforcing qualitative (family and community ethnographies) and quantitative (survey interviews, content analysis) techniques. Control sites will not receive any intervention, while treatment sites will receive televisions and generators with gasoline to operate the televisions. Two principal research questions will be addressed:

(1) Does television have a causal impact on each one of a set of family attitudes and behaviors?

(2) Where television does show effects, through which mechanisms do these effects operate?

This design will deliver one of the most rigorous assessments to date of the causal impact of television on familial attitudes and behaviors. This research will advance our understanding of the causes of family change as well as our understanding of the social impact of mass media.

Funding Period: 09/20/2010 to 11/30/2014

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