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TV Affects Behavior: Targeted Programming Undermines Families

Henry Potrykus

July 9, 2013

Core Finding

“Progressive” television programming undermines family formation, pro¬≠motes divorce, and discourages marriage.1 It does this causally.


This research overview describes a “natural experiment” showing the effect of television programming (a detrimental effect):2 Targeted programming significantly negatively affects whether a population forms intact, stable families.

Footnotes throughout describe how the declarative statements made are known to be fact. The overview concludes with discussion points.

The overview summarizes the empirical analysis by La Ferrera, Chong, and Duryea (in two parts).3,4 Their analysis concerns the arrival of television signal into different Brazilian communities (both rural and urban).

Events Analyzed

A massive state-controlled expansion (roll-out) of the Brazilian television network Rede Globo took place starting in the 1960s and continuing into the 1990s. The expansion saw the introduction of certain television programs, particularly so-called “novelas.” These “soap operas” depicted smaller, more autonomous family modalities.5

This roll-out occurred in a controlled, pseudo-random fashion: Different Brazilian census areas, so-called Minimally Comparable Areas, received programming signal at different dates.

Looking at this pseudo-random pattern, 1) the date of introduction of novelas can be tracked, 2) subsequent change (if any) in fertility, marriage, and divorce patterns can be measured, and 3) this change (lower fertility, more divorce) can be attributed causally to the roll-out of the programming itself.6

The findings of this statistical compilation activity follow.

Empirical Findings

  • TV does significantly affect behavior, negatively.7 Detrimental programming is not simply watched by those who would have engaged in negative behaviors anyway:

– The Rede Globo roll-out did not target groups especially likely to enjoy novelas. (Those orchestrating the roll-out did not seek groups with an a priori penchant for smaller families or autonomous living standards which involve divorce and marital infidelity.)8

  • “Progressive” television undermines family formation, promotes divorce, and discourages marriage. It does this causally.9

TV undermines a nation’s economy, national entitlement systems (pensions), and the employability of a nation’s men.10

TV works against the stated policy goals and interests of national governments, empirically.

  • Culture and where it originates matter, quantitatively. Some culture has massive negative effects on society.

Negative behaviors adopted by man undermine society – economically and fiscally. This undermining of society is quantitatively verifiable and empirically deduced.11

A usual objection, that ‘values’ are only the concern of some special interest group, is false. The decline of families across the Minimum Comparable Areas shows values determine behavior:

Mothers received a transmission and began behaving according the suggestions of the transmission.


1 Footnote 5 and the sentence it modifies describe the programming.

2 See Henry Potrykus, Causal Determination for Social Policy, available at, techreport (MARRI, 2013), for an elaboration on what is meant here by cause and effect and how these are determined for public policy actions.

3 Eliana La Ferrara, Alberto Chong, and Suzanne Duryea, “Soap Operas and Fertility: Evidence from Brazil,” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 4, no. 4 (2012): 1-31.

4 Alberto Chong and Eliana La Ferrara, Television and Divorce: Evidence from Brazilian Novelas, techreport (Inter-American Development Bank, 2009).

5 La Ferrera et al. undertake a statistical analysis of the types of women depicted in the novelas, and their behaviors (e.g. infidelity).

6 Footnote 8 describes how these roll-outs are pseudo-random. The roll-out thus is a natural experiment which allows causality to be inferred: See the reference of Footnote 2.

7 The effect is seen with precision, above other, “random” changes in the family formation behavior seen in the Minimal Comparable Areas.

8 By looking at the groups about to receive programming one year before they receive signal, La Ferrera et al. show that there is no identifiable tendency for the groups towards lower fertility. This is a placebo test on the population of interest. Additionally, La Ferrera et al. test empirically whether those deciding this roll-out may have looked for certain socio-economic factors in area populations before deciding whether a population was to be next to receive programming signal. These factors might correlate both with viewing preference and family preference. This empirical test comes up negative.

9 Regarding divorce, on an Area-and year-weighted basis, the effect of TV is to increase the level of divorce by something approaching 10 percent. In a country of a few hundred million this creates millions of broken families.

10 The proof of this is immediate because young intact enduring marriage grants benefits to society through all these paths. For readable expositions of these facts, see:

Henry Potrykus and Patrick Fagan, Decline in Economic Growth: Human Capital & Population Change, available at, techreport (MARRI, 2011);

Henry Potrykus and Patrick Fagan, The Divorce Revolution Perpetually Reduces

U.S. Economic Growth, available at, techreport (MARRI, 2012);

Henry Potrykus and Patrick Fagan, Non-Marriage Reduces U.S. Labor Participation: The Abandonment of Marriage Puts America at Risk of a Depression, available at, techreport (MARRI, 2012);

And see the forthcoming paper on entitlements: 11See Footnote 10.