More on Prosperity, Sex Selection and Language

Jender relayed the dismal news that sex selective abortions have risen with the rise in prosperity in India.  According to a report in MS, there may also be a mitigating trend.

Cable television may promote gender equality and reduce domestic violence in rural India, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper. Women who were exposed to cable television over a 6- to 7-month period in India were less likely to report a preference for sons or complacency with domestic violence, and more likely to report autonomy in household decision-making, according to the working paper. In addition, more girls enrolled in school and fertility rates dropped.

The NBER working paper, based on surveys conducted in 2,700 households in the years 2001, 2002, and 2003, indicates that television alters behavior by exposing individuals to a new set of worldviews and lifestyles.

The researchers register the worry that part of what they are seeing is just a change in what the respondents think they are supposed to say, but they think that’s still progress. This observation may remind one of Jender’s comments about the language used to report the original finding. Is changing the language – or what counts as the right thing to say – progress?

My vote is “yes.” To make years or centuries of denigrating language publicly impermissible is a way of problematizing issues. My reasons for saying that are based on experiences with political-geographical areas where racist and sexist language and comments have not been disallowed, and the underlying attitudes remain relatively unexamined.

Changing what one will say to an interviewer may then be a start in the reexamination of views.  It is a small change, but, according to the NBER working paper, one accompanied in this case by positive changes in both girls’ schooling and fertility rates.

What do you think?

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