Misleading Murder and Rape Maps, and the Sweden Rape Puzzle

World Murder Rate MapThe previous post on murder rates in Brazil featured a Wikipedia map of homicide rate by country, based on a 2011 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). That map, reproduced here, is less than ideal, as its highest category lumps together countries with hugely different homicide rates, ranging from 20.1 per 100,000 in Kyrgyzstan to 91.6 in Honduras. I therefore remapped the same data in 12 rather than six categories. I also used a two-color scheme, depicting low-murder-rate countries in varying shades of blue and high-murder-rate countries in red. Such a system better captures the huge variation in murder rates, which ranges from 0.3 per 100,000 (Iceland and Singapore) to almost 100 per 100,000 (Honduras).

World Murder Rate Geocurrents MapThe geographical patterns revealed by the map are clear. Murder is much more common in tropical Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Russia than it is in most of the rest of the world. Homicide is relatively rare in Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East & North Africa.

But are such figures reliable? In general, murder data is considered to be one of the more reliable crime statistics, due in part to the mere severity of the offense. But that still does not mean that it is necessarily trustworthy. I am skeptical, for example, of the low homicide rate posted for Somalia (1.5), which is substantially below those of neighboring countries. Much of Somalia is wracked by extreme violence, although it can be difficult to determine whether an individual killing is best considered an act of murder or an incident of war. But more to the point, how could a country as anarchic as Somalia possibly gather dependable murder data?

The low reported murder rate in China has been received with some skepticism, as have official reports that it has been declining sharply in recent years. As The Economist recently reported:

Official figures show that the number of murder cases rose from fewer than 10,000 in 1981 to more than 28,000 in 2000. Since then it has dropped almost every year, to about 12,000 in 2011. China’s statistics bureau does not disclose which crimes are included in its murder data. Chinese scholars say that a single case might include several deaths, and that some killings which occur in the course of other violent crimes such as rape or robbery might be excluded. In a 2006 report, the World Health Organisation estimated that in 2002, when 26,300 murder cases were recorded in China, 38,000 people died from “homicide-related injuries”.

Homicide Data Source mapWhen I mentioned China’s supposedly low murder rate in my seminar on the history and geography of current global events this week, the one Chinese student in the class expressed strong doubt. According to her, murder for gambling debt is common in China but rarely recorded. Although I was unable to find systematic information on this topic, an internet search of “China, murder, gambling” does return a curiously large number of hits.

The authors of the UNODC report are well aware of such data problems, and they worked hard to overcome them. They have considered the discrepancies found among different sources of information for different countries, and they weight the results accordingly. For several parts of the world they have abandoned conventional “criminal justice data” in favor of “public health sources.”  In the process, they have revised murder rates of many African countries sharply upwards.

World Rape Rate MapIf global murder-rate figures are problematic, rape-rate figures appear to be almost worthless. Consider, for example, the Index Mundi rape-rate map posted here, which indicates that Sweden and New Zealand have some of the highest levels of rape in the world, and that Egypt has one of the lowest. Although the map comes with a disclaimer,* it is hardly adequate. Could anyone possibly believe that Sweden has a higher rape rate than Egypt? Egypt is currently suffering a rape epidemic so severe that it is becoming a diplomatic issue. Sweden, meanwhile, consistently rates as one of the most gender egalitarian, nonviolent countries in the world.

Yet it does appear that many people accept such official statistics, and are happy to use them to score ideological points. This occurs on both on the right and left sides of the political spectrum. In a letter to the government of Sweden, leftist filmmaker Michael Moore writes:

Let me say that again: nine out of ten times, when women [in Sweden] report they have been raped, you never even bother to start legal proceedings. No wonder that, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, it is now statistically more likely that someone in Sweden will be sexually assaulted than that they will be robbed. Message to rapists? Sweden loves you! So imagine our surprise when all of a sudden you decided to go after one Julian Assange [of Wikileaks fame] on sexual assault charges.

On the political right, an article in FrontPage also accepts Sweden’s official rape statistics on face value, but places all the blame on Muslim immigrants:

In 2003, Sweden’s rape statistics were higher than average at 9.24, but in 2005 they shot up to 36.8 and by 2008 were up to 53.2. Now they are almost certainly even higher as Muslim immigrants continue forming a larger percentage of the population. With Muslims represented in as many as 77 percent of the rape cases and a major increase in rape cases paralleling a major increase in Muslim immigration, the wages of Muslim immigration are proving to be a sexual assault epidemic by a misogynistic ideology.

Although Muslim immigrants have been responsible for many if not most recent cases of forcible rape in Sweden, the country’s extremely high official rape rate seems to be mostly a result of tabulation strategies. Many acts are counted as rape in Sweden that would not be so counted elsewhere. As explained recently in the BBC:

On the face of it, it would seem Sweden is a much more dangerous place than these other countries. But that is a misconception, according to Klara Selin, a sociologist at the National Council for Crime Prevention in Stockholm. She says you cannot compare countries’ records, because police procedures and legal definitions vary widely. In Sweden there has been this ambition explicitly to record every case of sexual violence separately, to make it visible in the statistics,” she says. “So, for instance, when a woman comes to the police and she says my husband or my fiance raped me almost every day during the last year, the police have to record each of these events, which might be more than 300 events. In many other countries it would just be one record – one victim, one type of crime, one record.”

Barriers to Rape Reporting MapMany countries exhibit the opposite tendency: the systematic under-reporting of rape. Rape cases are not reported for a variety of reasons, both cultural and institutional.

One strategy for determining the actual prevalence of rape is to examine obstacles to reporting the crime. The Woman Stats Project, which has created an intriguing map collection, has done precisely that, mapping the “Strength of Barriers to Reporting Rape.” As can be seen, cultural and legal obstacles are depicted as extreme across South and Southwest Asia, and much of Africa as well. The data source, however, is not specified, and I am skeptical of many of the claim advanced by the map. Are reporting barriers really much more intense in Germany than they are in Austria or Switzerland?  I have more serious misgivings about another map in the same cartographic series, which depicts the prevalence of rape. This map tells us that rape is non-existent in Armenia and Georgia, and that India, Pakistan, and Sudan have a lower prevalence of the crime than Iceland, Finland, and Australia. It also tells us that Brazil—another country currently experiencing a “rape epidemic”—suffers less rape than the Netherlands and at least six times less rape than Montenegro. The huge gaps between neighboring countries in Africa are also highly suspicious.

Prevalence of Rape MapWhen it comes to crime rates, it does seem that statistics—and maps based on those statistics—are often so misleading as to be essentially dishonest.

*The disclaimer reads as follows: “Note though that comparison of crime rates across countries needs to be be taken with a grain of salt, since in some countries the population may be reluctant to report certain types of crimes to the police.”


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Dan Brown, Overpopulation, and the Plunging Fertility Rates of Turkey and Iran

Global overpopulation has recently returned to the public spotlight with the publication of Inferno, the latest offering from novelist Dan Brown, author of the 2003 blockbuster The Da Vinci Code. A mystery thriller on the surface, Inferno is ultimately a piece of demographic fiction. As one reviewer notes, “The specter of a catastrophically overpopulated Earth, its desperate people grasping and clawing for diminishing resources, looms large over the novel. It’s a scene that evokes all the pain and suffering of Dante Alighieri’s vision of hell in “The Divine Comedy.” Brown himself stresses his Malthusian vision, noting in an interview that “Futurists don’t consider overpopulation one of the issues of the future. They consider it the issue of the future.” As is true of The Da Vinci Code, Inferno is striking hostile to the Roman Catholic Church, attacking it for its opposition to contraception and family planning. Taking on the Catholic Church has evidently not hurt sales; to the contrary, some reviewers almost seem to regard it as a marketing ploy. According to the Daily Mail, “The Da Vinci Code offended the Vatican, and was denounced by the Pope. What better publicity could an author hope for?”

Brown’s extraordinary popularity—with books sales of more than 200 million—seems to attract excessive criticism. According to the Belfast Times, his treatment at the hands of critics has been nothing less than “hellish.” Melbourne’s Herald Sun, for example, tells us that “Dan Brown Is Back, As Bad as Ever.” Many of the harsh reviews of Inferno focus on factual errors, some of which are rather petty. The Daily Beast, for example,  “fact-checks” the book and finds 10 significant “Mistakes, False Statements, and Oversimplifications.” A typical example runs as follows:

After hyping up the brains of heroine Dr. Sienna Brooks, with her enormous IQ of 208 (Stephen Hawking only scored 200) and her various degrees, Brown then presents her as unfamiliar with Venetian Carnival plague-doctor masks. Anyone who has been to Venice, or even watched a Travel Channel documentary about Venice, will know of them.

InfernoBut despite the unforgiving nature of the criticism, Brown’s central concern—that of human overpopulation threatening to overwhelm the planet—has gone almost unnoted. Evidently, this scenario seems reasonable to most reviewers. It is not. Fertility rates are declining if not plummeting almost everywhere, and have already gone below the replacement rate across much of the so-called Third World. After a few billion more people are added, a plateau will be reached and then a gradual fall will likely commence.

Brown’s more specific charges against the Roman Catholic Church are also problematic. Certainly one can object to the Church’s stance on contraception and family planning, but the fact remains that a minority of Catholics actually follow such teachings. Most primarily Catholic countries have birthrates close to or below the replacement level. Exceptions certainly exist, such as East Timor, the Philippines, and Guatemala. Many Catholic areas in Africa, moreover, have very high fertility levels. In Europe, however, the traditionally Catholic countries, except France and Ireland, have substantially lower birthrates than the historically Lutheran Nordic countries. Several Latin American countries of Catholic heritage have lower birthrates than the heavily Protestant areas of the United States.

Turkey Iran TFR GraphFertility QuizAs the reactions to Inferno make clear, an impending population catastrophe remains ingrained in the public imagination. As noted in the previous post on this issue, my own students substantially overestimated fertility rates across India. They also seem to find the idea of a global population explosion difficult to shake. After quizzing them on India’s birthrate a few weeks ago, I showed them fertility-rate maps of both South Asia and the world at large. Last Friday, I quizzed them again, this time on the demographic situations of Iran and Turkey. The image posted here shows my question, the response from the class, and the correct answer. As can be seen, most students expected  higher birthrates in these countries than they actually have.

As it turns out, Iran has experienced one of the world’s most precipitous birthrate declines, its total fertility rate falling from 6.52 in 1982 to 1.67 in 2010. This drop has led the Iranian government to another u-turn in family planning; the pro-natalist policy initiated after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 was replaced by a family-planning agenda in 1989, but now large families are again encouraged. According to a recent article in the International Business Times:

Teheran officials, who have spearheaded a door-to-door campaign to spread a health education propaganda drive, want to spark a baby boom that would double the Iranian population to about 150 million. The Daily Telegraph reported that no less than 150,000 health workers have mobilized for the ambitious project, literally knocking on the doors of homes to encourage single-child families to have more offspring.

The fertility decline in Turkey has not been as steep as that of Iran, but it has been steady, the total fertility rate falling from 4.57 in 1979 to 2.06 in 2011. As in Iran, the country’s government is not pleased. As recently reported in Al-Monitor:

Himself a father of four, [Turkish Prime Minister Recep] Erdogan has urged married couples to have at least three children, pushing his message bluntly on every platform — from casual chats and wedding ceremonies to party meetings and diplomatic occasions. Arguing that a larger, youthful population will help propel Turkey into the world’s top 10 economies, he has vilified past policies of “family planning” and made bizarre warnings of plots “to wipe the Turkish nation off the global stage.” Recently, he has upped the bar even higher, calling for four or five children.

Turkey TFR MapOne of the reasons why Erdogan is so concerned about the Turkish fertility decline is its geographical imbalance. In the more prosperous western regions of the country, the fertility rate is now roughly 1.5 and falling, whereas in the Kurdish-speaking southeast it is roughly 3.5 and perhaps rising. As recently reported in International Business Times:

Thus, Turkey is facing a demographic time bomb — Kurds, who tend to be concentrated in the country’s impoverished southeast and are generally poorer and less educated — could conceivably outnumber Turks within about 30 years should present patterns persist.

Despite the dreams and plans of the Turkish and Iranian government, it seems highly unlikely that pro-natalist policies will result in a return to the high birth-rates of the past.

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Television and Fertility in India: Response to Critics

(Note to readers: My recent blog post on television and fertility in India has attracted some attention, including a detailed critique on the blog Challenging Civilization. This post is my response to this critique.)

First, I would like to thank Tom Smith at Challenging Civilization for taking the time write a thoughtful critique of my blog post on television and fertility decline in India. Unfortunately, however, Mr. Smith makes claims about my post that cannot be substantiated. I made no direct statements about Mr. Smith’s views on population growth, nor did I make any implications about them. I merely cited his blog post as evidence that some radical environmentalists look favorably on Jerry Mander’s arguments for the elimination of television.

As my post did not elaborate the precise forms of economic development that I advocate, his claim that “The growth-based, resource-intensive development model which Lewis would like us to follow faces the double bind of a peak in the oil …  and needing to drastically lower CO2 emissions” is unfair. In actuality, I strongly support a transition to a post-fossil-fuel economy, both for India and the rest of the world. I do champion economic growth, but I must emphasize that the continual expansion of the economy entails an increase in the value of goods and services produced, and not necessarily an incessant increase in the use of resources and energy. In many instances, the dematerialization of economic processes results in increasing value as well as declining demands on the natural environment. Video conferencing, for example, takes a much smaller toll than actual travel to meetings. By the same token, my blog posts, like those of Tom Smith, use less energy and resources than conventional print journalism.

Smith’s data on television in India are also misleading. Figures from 2001 are significantly out of date, and any data given for India as a whole misses the profound regional disparities that my article emphasizes. Similarly, linkages between rates of decline in fertility and television viewership need to be made at the local level, not at that of India as a whole. And besides, Indians often do watch television in the houses of their wealthier neighbors, “packing like sardines.” In fact, a lot of small-scale entrepreneurialism is encountered here, as many TV owners charge a small fee to visiting viewers. It is also misleading to imply that India lacks occupational and social mobility. Despite the caste system, such mobility is increasingly common, although it is vastly more pronounced in cities than in the countryside, especially those in the economically and socially progressive regions of the south and west. Even in countries more highly developed than India, moreover, communal television viewing can be widespread. As my blogging partner Asya Pereltsvaig notes from her own personal experience, “In Russia, people packed into the same room to watch TV even when—and even more so when—they lived in communal apartments, one family per one room, several families sharing bathroom and kitchen facilities.”

Smith’s warnings about the possible detrimental effects of television are valid. But the issue here is not mere viewing, but rather the extent of viewing. As Paracelsus, the “father of toxicology,” noted in the early 16th century, “All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.” Incessant television watching can no doubt be toxic, but in moderation the practice can be beneficial, depending of course on what one chooses to watch.

In many countries, and especially the United States, a major shift has occurred over the past decade in regard to the social acceptance of homosexuality. Television, I suspect, has been highly influential here as well, as many shows now portray gay and lesbian people as normal characters, with the same charms and foibles as everyone else. A prime case in point is the delightful, creative, and often hilarious American situation comedy Modern Family.

And finally, when it comes to proposals for banning television, basic issues of human freedom must also be taken into account. Only a repressive government could, or would, seek to prohibit television viewing. Of course repressive governments often use television for their own propaganda purposes. The key issue here is thus programming freedom. Here I am reminded of Iran’s feckless policy of prohibiting satellite dishes, done in order to try to keep out Western television and its supposedly nefarious influences. As recently reported by France 24:

Iranian police have launched a new crackdown on satellite dishes, which many Iranians, especially in the capital, use to watch TV channels broadcasted from abroad. The police do this on a regular basis, but, despite changing tactics, our Observers in Tehran tell us this is a losing battle. Though satellite dishes are banned, Tehran’s rooftops are littered with them. The police regularly confiscate them, and, approximately once a year, launch a major crackdown.


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India’s Plummeting Birthrate: A Television-Induced Transformation?

(Note: As can be seen, GeoCurrents has a new, more streamlined appearance. The “GeoNotes” feature has been replaced by section that highlights “featured posts,” as we found it increasingly difficult to differentiate regular posts from “notes.” We also hope that the new format will make it easier for readers to access older posts.

To initiate the new format, today’s post is longer and more map-intensive than most. It also deviates from the norm in another important aspect. In general, GeoCurrents avoids making policy recommendations: this post, however, breaks the rule.)


World Fertility Rate MapAs Stanford University, like many others, is advocating interactive approaches to teaching, I have been experimenting with a software system (Top Hat Monocle) that lets me quiz students as I lecture. In so doing, I can assess levels of knowledge and adjust my lectures accordingly. Overall, the experiment has proved useful, revealing that some issues are already understood, whereas others most definitely are not.

India TFR GraphThe one question that stymied almost all of my students concerned India’s birthrate. As their in-class answers revealed, most believed that India’s total fertility rate (TFR) was roughly twice that of the United States, imagining that the average Indian woman could be expected to bear at least four children. Informal queries among colleagues and friends produced similar results. Most well-educated Americans, it would appear, are under the impression that India is still characterized by high fertility.

In actuality, India’s TFR is only 2.5—and falling steadily. This figure barely exceeds that of the United States. In 2011, the US fertility rate was estimated at 2.1, essentially the replacement level; a more recent study now pegs it at 1.93. Still, from a global perspective, India and the US fall in the same general fertility category, as can be seen in the map posted here.

TFR Selected Gountries GraphIn today’s world, high fertility rates are increasingly confined to tropical Africa. Birth rates in most so-called Third World countries have dropped precipitously, and some are now well below the replacement rate. Chile (1.85), Brazil (1.81), and Thailand (1.56) now have lower birth rates than France (2.0), Norway (1.95), and Sweden (1.98). To be sure, moderately elevated fertility is still a problem in several densely populated countries of Asia and Latin America, such as the Philippines (3.1) and Guatemala (3.92). But as the Google Public Data chart posted here shows, even the Philippines has been experiencing a steady fall in TFR. The same is true of Afghanistan, the most fecund country outside of Africa, at least for the past 15 years. As can also be seen, TFR declines have been much more modest in such African countries as Niger and Tanzania. It must be acknowledged, however, that reductions in fertility are not necessarily permanent. As the New York Times recently reported, the decline of family planning services has already ticked up the birthrate in Egypt, threatening that country’s already tight demographic squeeze.

TFR African Countries GraphI find it extraordinary that the massive global drop in human fertility has been so little noticed by the media, escaping the attention of even highly educated Americans. The outdated idea that Mexico has a crushingly high birthrate continues to inform many discussions of immigration reform in the United States, even though Mexico’s TFR (2.32 in 2010) is only slightly above that of the United States. It almost seems as though we have collectively decided to ignore this momentous transformation of human behavior. Scholars and journalists alike continue to warn that global population is spiraling out of control. A recent LiveScience article, for example, quotes a co-author of an April 2013 Science report who argues that “the poorest nations are caught in a downward spiral that will deplete resources and cause a population explosion.” The article goes on to argue that “with the world population slated to hit 9 billion by the year 2050, many scientists and others worry that unchecked population growth and increasing consumption of natural resources will cause dire problems in the future.” Although the LiveScience article notes that the original report focused on sub-Saharan Africa, it does not mention the fact that high birth rates are in fact increasingly confined to that part of the world, or that fertility rates are persistently declining in almost every country in Africa, albeit slowly. Many African states, moreover, are still sparsely settled and can accommodate significantly larger populations. The Central African Republic, for example, has a population of less than 4.5 million in an area almost the size of France.

India is an instructive place for investigating fertility decline. Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich* began his pivotal 1968 book The Population Bomb with a vignette of teeming New Delhi and the disasters it portended. Warning that overpopulation would soon spread massive famines across continents, Ehrlich advocated coercion: the “sterilization of all Indian males with three or more children” (Ehrlich, 1971 edition, p. 151). Responding in part to such dire prophesies and advice, India enacted a population campaign in the 1970s tilted toward forced sterilization. This widely despised program was quickly dismantled with little appreciable effect on India’s TFR, which continued along its steady downward path.

India Fertility MapIt can be deceptive, however, to view India as an undivided whole. As shown on the map posted here, fertility figures for half of India are actually below replacement level. Were it not for the Hindi-speaking heartland, India would already be looking at population stabilization and even decline. All the states of southern India post TFR figures below 1.9. A number of states in the far north and the northeast boast similarly low fertility levels, including West Bengal, noted for its swarming metropolis of Calcutta (Kolkata).

India’s geographical birthrate disparities, coupled with the country’s admirable ability to collect socio-economic data, allow us to carefully examine ideas about fertility decline. The remainder of this post will do so through cartography, comparing the Indian fertility-rate map with maps of other social and economic indicators. Where spatial correlations are strong, underlying causes may be indicated. Such a technique is admittedly suggestive rather than conclusive, and it does not take into account institutional variables, such as family planning efforts. Still, some of the implications are intriguing.

India fertility literacy MapSeveral scholars have linked birthrate decline to female education. Educated women, they reason, generally prefer smaller families, allowing them to pursue their own interests while investing more resources and time in each child. As it turns out, the map of female literacy in India does exhibit striking similarities with the map of fertility. States with educated women, such as Kerala and Goa, have smaller families than those with widespread female illiteracy, such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. But this correlation, although strong, is of limited explanatory power, since Kerala and Goa rank high on every social indicator, just as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh rank low. A number of exceptions, moreover, are evident. Andhra Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, for example, combine low female literacy with low fertility, whereas in Meghalaya and Nagaland the pattern is reversed. Thus while the education of women is no doubt significant in reducing fertility levels, it is not the only factor at play.

India Fertility GDP MapGeneral levels of economic development, as reflected in per capita GDP, also fail to fully explain India’s fertility patterns. Again, map comparisons reveal congruences in some places but deviations in others. Low-fertility Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal are not, by Indian terms, prosperous states. Gujarat in western India is well ahead of them economically, yet its fertility rate remains higher, slightly above the replacement level.


India Urbanization Fertility MapUrbanization often correlates with reduced fertility, and the rapid growth of India’s cities is probably linked to its declining birthrate. India as a whole, however, remains a predominantly rural country, so urbanization itself cannot be the answer. Note also that low-fertility Kerala and especially Himachal Pradesh have low urbanization levels, whereas in Mizoram the opposite situation prevails.


India HDI Fertility MapThe general level of social development makes another interesting comparison. The somewhat dated Human Development index map, from the Wikipedia, again deviates from the fertility map, especially in regard to low-HDI-ranking Andhra Pradesh and Odisha (Orissa), and high-ranking Nagaland and Manipur. The mapping of life expectancy, a major social indicator, again reveals both common features and anomalies. States with high life expectancies tend to have low India Longevity Fertility Mapbirthrates (Kerala, yet again), whereas those with low life expectancies tend to have high birthrates (Madhya Pradesh, especially). Yet while Odisha lags behind even Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in terms of longevity, its TFR (2.2) is close to replacement, lower even than that of Gujarat.


India Fertility Electrification MapTechnological modernization is also worth examining. Here we use electrification as a proxy. The extent of electricity use varies tremendously across the country. All of southern and far northern India are now almost fully electrified, whereas in impoverished Bihar fewer than 20 percent of households have electric lights. Overall, the general pattern holds here as on the other maps, with interesting exceptions. Nagaland and Chhattisgarh, for example, have relatively high levels of electrification, yet are marked by elevated birthrates.

Some scholars have argued that recent fertility decreases in India and elsewhere in the Third World are more specifically linked to one technological innovation: television. The TV hypothesis is well-known in the field, discussed, for example, in the LiveScience article on the African population explosion mentioned above. In regard to India, Robert Jensen and Emily Oster argue persuasively that television works this magic mostly by enhancing the social position of women. As they state in their abstract:

This paper explores the effect of the introduction of cable television on women’s status in rural India. Using a three-year, individual-level panel dataset, we find that the introduction of cable television is associated with significant decreases in the reported acceptability of domestic violence towards women and son preference, as well as increases in women’s autonomy and decreases in fertility. We also find suggestive evidence that exposure to cable increases school enrollment for younger children, perhaps through increased participation of women in household decision-making. We argue that the results are not driven by pre-existing differential trends.

India Fertility TV Ownership MapAs it turns out, the map of television ownership in India does bear a particularly close resemblance to the fertility map. Two anomalously low-fertility states with low levels of female education, Andhra Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, score relatively high on TV penetration, as does West Bengal, which lags on several other important socio-economic indicators. The correlation is far from perfect: Mizoram ranks higher on the TV chart than its fertility figures would indicate, whereas Odisha and Assam rank lower. Odisha and Assam turn out to be a bit less exceptional in a related but broader and more gender-focused metric, that of “female exposure to media.” These figures, which include a television component, seem to provide the best overall correlation with the spatial patterns of Indian fertility.

India Fertility Media MapI suspect that the rapid drop in fertility in such countries as India and Brazil, as well as its association with television, has been missed in mainstream US commentary in part because it flies in the face of deeply ingrained expectations. That television viewing would help generate demographic stabilization would have come as a shock to those who warned of the ticking global population bomb in the 1960s. Many of these same critics regarded television as inauthentic, mind-numbing, and thought-controlling, and feared that by inculcating consumerism it would hasten environmental destruction. Jerry Mander’s 1978 book, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, was widely embraced by the green movement, and is still approvingly cited in such places as the “primitivist” blog Challenging Civilization. Mander argued not only that television singularly lacks democratic potential, but that it functions to enhance autocratic control.

Mander currently sits on the board of directors of the San Francisco-based International Forum on Globalization alongside Vandana Shiva, India’s most prominent environmental activist. Shiva, best known for her campaigns against genetically modified crops, is deeply opposed to most aspects of modernity, calling for a return not just to organic farming but to a broadly traditional way of life, albeit without patriarchy and class (and caste) oppression. She gained global attention earlier this year when she responded to a prominent environmentalist advocating genetic engineering with the following tweet: “Mark Lynas saying farmers shd be free to grow GMOs which can contaminate organic farms is like saying rapists shd have freedom to rape.”

Despite Vandana Shiva’s insistence to the contrary, most experts doubt that India could feed itself through non-modern farming. The “progressive contrarian” blogger Bernie Mooney concludes that Shiva is nothing less than “an elitist, anti-progress menace” whose program, if enacted, would not “help the poor of the world, [but would] only keep them at a subsistence level and more importantly, in their place.” Although Mooney’s assessment is harsh, it does seem likely that a return to traditional lifestyles would bring back high fertility levels, resulting in truly unsustainable population growth.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the transition to a low fertility regime, deemed necessary by almost all environmentalists, requires substantial modernization, particularly in the socio-cultural realm. Television depresses fertility because many of its offerings provide a model of middle-class families successfully grappling with the transition from tradition to modernity, helped by the fact that they have few children to support. In a study of declining fertility and television in Brazil, Eliana La Ferrara, Alberto Chong, and Suzanne Duryea point in particular to the role of soap operas (telenovelas):

We focus on fertility choices in Brazil, a country where soap operas (novelas) portray families that are much smaller than in reality. We exploit differences in the timing of entry into different markets of Rede Globo, the network that has an effective monopoly on novelas production in this country. Using Census data for the period 1970-1991, we find that women living in areas covered by the Globo signal have significantly lower fertility. The effect is strongest for women of lower socioeconomic status and for women in the central and late phases of their fertility cycle, consistent with stopping behavior.  … Finally, we provide suggestive evidence that novelas, and not just television, affected individual choices.

If it is true that soap operas have played a critical role in Brazil’s spectacular fertility decline—its TFR dropped from 6.25 in 1960 to 1.81 in 2011—the policy implications are momentous. But it will take a fundamental change in the way we talk about technology, population, and environment for this point to come across. As Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger (2007, page 130) argue, old-school environmentalists typically prefer to “wrap the latest scientific research about an ecological calamity in a tragic narrative that conjures nostalgia for Nature while prophesying even worse disasters to come unless human societies repent for their sins against Nature and work for a return to a harmonious relationship with the natural world.” The data presented here confirm that it is time for a new mode of environmental rhetoric.

To return to our first map, fertility rates remain stubbornly high across tropical Africa. The analysis presented here would suggest that the best way to bring them down would be a three-pronged effort: female education, broad-based economic and social development, and mass electrification followed by the dissemination of soap-opera-heavy television. As it is, Africa’s television market is growing rapidly, but much of the programming so far has been heavily oriented toward sports. One can only hope that Nollywood (Nigeria’s Hollywood) and other African entertainment centers can provide the women-focused, locally appealing telenovelas that have been so strongly associated elsewhere with fertility reduction.

*Ehrlich is also one of the co-authors of the Science article referred to above.

Paul Ehrlich. 1968 (revised edition 1971). The Population Bomb. Sierra Club/Ballantine.

Jerry Mander. 1978. Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. HarperCollins.

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger. 2007. Breakthrough: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility. Houghton Miflin.

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New Government in East Timor Sparks Gender Debate

Over the last half-century, peace and stability have remained elusive goals in East Timor, officially known the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste. Invaded by Indonesia shortly after it achieved independence from Portugal in 1975, East Timor has only been a formal country with de facto control of its borders only since 2002. On July 7, the country held its third parliamentary election that was won handily by the ruling party, the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction. Outside observers have praised the election as relatively uncorrupt, with people walking hours in order to cast their votes. Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao announced the formation of a new cabinet on August 7th, completing the new government.

The choice of Maria Domingas Alves, previously the Minister of Social Security, for the more prestigious position as Minister of Defense and Security (the military’s top civilian overseer) proved to be the most controversial cabinet pick. President Taur Matan Ruak, who was elected as an independent candidate in April, seems to have balked at the selection of a woman, and forced the nomination of Cirilo Jose Christopher instead. Christopher’s nomination is now secure, but women’s rights groups in East Timor are furious. The Rado Feto womens’ network claims that the snubbing of Alves is a decision to “reduce the dignity of East Timorese women, and ignore women’s capacity that was well demonstrated [by Mikato] in her over five years contributing strong successes in the administration of the first coalition government.” The women of East Timor’s parliament have also expressed their anger, claiming that the President’s decision “kills the spirit of participation among women.”

President Ruak’s real name is José Maria Vasconcelos. Taur Matan Ruak is rather a nom de guerre meaning “two sharp eyes” in Tetum, an Austronesian language straddling the Indonesia/East Timor border. Having fought the Indonesian occupation of East Timor for its entire 29-year duration, Ruak remains a very popular political figure. He played a controversial role in the 2006 East Timor Crisis, a period of infighting among the military, where he distributed weapons to civilians to help back his faction, but this seems not to have damaged his political career. After a generation at the helm of East Timor’s armed forces, Ruak sees Alves as an outsider who lacks the necessary experience and pedigree, a charge deemed ridiculous by Alves’s supporters.

Adding to these tensions is East Timor’s persistent (and historically justified) fear of conflict with Indonesia. Recently a small fight broke out between Indonesian and East Timorese civilians inside the “Free Zone” that separates the two countries. Apparently, the East Timorese attempted to build a customs facility in the zone, which Indonesians attacked with rocks. An East Timorese security post suffered damage, but otherwise no one was harmed.

Allegations of presidential sexism notwithstanding, the last month has generally been regarded as a success for East Timor. With its history of war and a GDP per capita of only $1,588 in 2011 (156th in the World according to the World Bank), carrying out successful elections remains a significant accomplishment for the country.

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Thai Transsexual Wins Election

Yonlada Suanyos, a transsexual woman, recently gained fame by becoming Thailand’s first katoey (or openly transgender person) to be elected to public office. Ms. Suanyos, a PhD candidate who also runs a television station and a jewelry business, will soon become a councilor in Nan province in northern Thailand. She was formerly a member of a transgender music group called Venus Flytrap, performing under the name of Posh Venus.

Thailand is noted for both the size and the public acceptance of its transgender community. According to a Global Post article, roughly one biological man in 2,500 live as women in the United States, whereas in Thailand the figure could be as high as one in 165. Not surprisingly, Thailand is a major center of sexual reassignment surgery. Thai transsexuals often suffer abuse, but less so than in most other countries. They are periodically celebrated in beauty contests, and last year, according to Reuters, “A new Thai airline [began] hiring transsexual ladyboys as flight attendants, aiming at a unique identity to set itself apart from competitors as it sets out for the skies.”

Military service can be a difficult matter for transsexuals in Thailand, a country that practices conscription. As the Global Post article recounts:

 In practice, long-haired, perfumed draftees with hormone-induced breasts are very rarely drafted. Instead, they are dismissed as unfit for service, often for having “malformed chests.” The most common reason for dismissal, however, is also the more damning: “mental disorder.” Worse yet is “permanent insanity,” a ruling written into the permanent record of kathoey Samart Meecharoen in 2006.

The Thai Buddhist establishment is also concerned about the prevalence of transsexuals in the country. Some monasteries even provide “masculinity training,” a difficult and highly controversial practice. Reportedly, half of the young men trained in one program have gone on to live as women.


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Violence against Women in Solomon Islands

According to Australia Network News, a recent World Bank report lists Solomon Islands as suffering from more violence against women than any other country. The Bank’s recent Gender Equality and Development Report states that 64 per cent of women in the Melanesian country claim that they have been victims of domestic violence. Most of the violence against women in Solomon Islands is reported to be sexual in nature. Laws to criminalize domestic violence have not been instituted in the island country.

An earlier Australian governmental report claims that violence against women is common across most of Melanesia:

In Melanesia and East Timor, violence against women is severe, pervasive and constrains development. The impacts of violence against women include escalating health care, social services, policing and justice system costs and restrict women’s participation in political, social and economic life.


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Mother Goddess Worship in Vietnam

Wikipedia Religious Freedom Map

Wikipedia Religious Freedom MapAlthough Vietnam is in name a Communist state, the practice of mother goddess worship  endures through much of the country.  Mother Goddesses are thought to represent heaven, earth, water, mountains, and forests.  They are celebrated in rituals as symbols of fertility and creation.  For the first time, the worship of Mother Goddesses is on display at a public museum in Hanoi.  The exhibition, “Worshiping Mother Goddesses: Heart – Beauty – Joy,” opened at the Vietnam Women’s Museum on 5 January 2012.  Its installation comes after two years of research among practitioners by the Vietnam Women’s Union.

Organizers of the exhibition reported approval difficulties with local authorities. According to anthropologist and Mother-Goddess-worship specialist Professor Ngo Duc Thinh, these problems are unsurprising, “since in the past, the worship was seen as superstition.”  However, signs suggest a change, since Mother Goddess worship is at last “being officially acknowledged in modern society.”  The ritual may be proposed as an UNESCO cultural heritage.  This exhibition may be the first step towards greater recognition and appreciation of the ritual, as Vietnamese anthropologists propose to found a private museum focused on the worship of Mother Goddesses.

Overall, Vietnam is generally regarded as having a relatively low level of religious freedom, as indicated in this admittedly highly problematic Wikipedia map. Vietnamese human rights activists have recently accused the government of discriminating against religious minorities, especially among the country’s tribal populations.

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The Defeat of Anti-Bride-Abduction Legislation in Kyrgyzstan

Bride Kidnapping Kyrgyzstan Film Poster

Bride Kidnapping Kyrgyzstan Film PosterThe forcible abduction of women for the purpose of marriage has long been common in Kyrgyzstan. According to a recent article, almost half of all wives in some provincial towns were “non-consensually kidnapped.” The practice is illegal in Kyrgyzstan and violates Islamic law, but many local Muslim clerics are willing to legitimize such unions. A bill in the Kyrgyz parliament designed to eliminate the practice recently went down to defeat, in part because many legislators remained absent. The bill reportedly failed to gain widespread support because male members of parliament feared that it would also be used to crack down on polygamy. Polygamy is also illegal in Kyrgyzstan, but it is increasingly common among the wealthier members of the society.

According to the article, clerics usually bless such “marriages by abduction” after the kidnapped women agree to it, but such “agreement” often follows rape and other acts of violence and coercion.

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Circumcision Quandries in Zambia

Public health officials have been urging circumcision on men in sub-Saharan Africa, arguing that the universal application of the practice could prevent two million HIV cases a year. A recent study in Zambia, however, shows that roughly a quarter of newly circumcised men resume sexual activities before they have fully healed, facilitating the spread of the virus. As a result, health experts fear that the spread of circumcision in the region could actually increase HIV infection rates.


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Same-Sex Couples and Native American Communities

US Census Map of Same-Sex Couples by CountyOn October 10, 2011, Andrew Sullivan’s blog ran a corrected U.S. Census map showing the proportion of same-sex couples in American counties. (An interactive version of the same map was posted on the National Public Radio website.) The Census had originally claimed that there were 901,997 self-reported same-sex couples in the United States. Evidently, a number of respondents had initially misrepresented the sex of their partners. As a result, the new report claimed that same sex-couples numbered 646,464.

Sullivan’s commentary on the map was limited, noting only the prevalence of same-sex couples in the Northeast. Yet much more interesting—and perplexing—patterns appear on the map. Gay and lesbian partnerships are shown to be concentrated in urban areas, although not to the extent that one might have predicted. According to the census returns, a numbers of rural counties show a higher percentage of same-sex couples that do many urban counties. Not surprisingly, smaller metropolitan areas with major universities tend to rank higher than larger ones lacking such establishments. Compare, for example, Dane County, Wisconsin (Madison) with Milwaukee County, or Washtenaw County, Michigan (Ann Arbor) with Wayne County (Detroit). By the same token, the greater Austin, Texas metro area has a significantly higher percentage of same-sex couples than the much more populous Houston metro area. Another expected feature of the map is the paucity of gay and lesbian partnerships in most counties across the Great Plains. The fact that the Southeast is almost indistinguishable from the Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes regions, on the other hand, is much more surprising.

Map of Native Americans by CountyThe map’s most unexpected and intriguing revelation, however, is the high proportion of same-sex couples in counties dominated by Native Americans across the “greater Northwest.” As can be seen by comparing the two maps, rural counties in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana that have significant numbers of same-sex partnerships are almost invariably sites of major American Indian reservations. The same pattern is also evident in neighboring states. Benewah country in northern Idaho, for example, is the home of the Coeur d’Alene people, Mahnomen County Minnesota lies entirely within the White Earth Reservation (Anishinaabe or Chippewa people), and Menominee County, Wisconsin is home to the Menominee people. The patterns found in Arizona and New Mexico are similar but more complicated. Both states are characterized by relatively high rates of same-sex partnership as well by large numbers of Native Americans, but at the county level the correlation is not particularly strong. In New Mexico, the highest rates of same-sex coupling are found in the so-called Hispano Homeland in the north-central part of the state, an area that has been heavily Spanish-speaking since the 1600s.

The prevalence of same-sex partnerships in Native American communities over a broad swath of the United States has been little noted in the media. The Suquamish Tribe of western Washington did receive national attention when it recently approved same-sex marriages, but otherwise commentary has been sparse. It should be noted, however, that many American Indian nations have traditionally reserved an honored place for transsexuals—or “two-spirit people”—whose ambiguous gender position has been associated with spiritual power.

Other rural counties with high levels of same-sex households are more perplexing. It seems odd indeed that Foard County in west Texas and Trigg County in western Kentucky would be classified in the highest category on the map.  In some cases, such seeming discrepancies could result from random distributional patterns. Foard County, for example, contains only 664 households; as a result, it would take only a few gay or lesbian pairings to place it in the “above 0.69 percent” high-end category.  Trigg County, on the other hand, has more than 5,000 households, and thus evidently has quite a few same-sex couples. It would be interesting to see how many of them are male-male and how many are female-female. As academics are wont to say, more research is clearly needed.

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Japan: An Egalitarian Society?

Income of Japan's Prefectures

Income of Japan's Prefectures
Income of Japan’s Prefectures

Japan is commonly perceived as an egalitarian society. It is a well-developed country commonly thought to have limited poverty; and as such, Japan is often grouped with the egalitarian Nordic countries. For example, in The Spirit Level: Why Equality Makes Societies Stronger, Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson* argue that equal societies are better for all citizens, using Japan as an important example. In actuality, inequality in Japan runs deep. Japan may be more egalitarian than the United Statues, but it is still beset by many layers of inequality.

Proportion of Population Living on Welfare

My previous blog entry explored three distinct layers of geographic inequality, focused on China, which all apply to Japan: regional disparities, the rural/urban divide, and the existence of an urban underclass. The map posted here shows the percentage of the population defined as living on welfare. The prefecture with the greatest proportion of welfare households is Osaka, with 4.35 of every 100 people in this category (colored red in the map).  However, throughout Japan, more families live under the poverty line than live off welfare, as nearly one in six lives on less than $1,830 a month for a four-person family. The map highlights significant regional inequalities across Japan. In general, the north and the south (including the island of Okinawa) are poorer, whereas the center of Japan is better off. In particular, the area between Tokyo and Osaka has the lowest rates of households living on welfare.

Like most other countries, Japan also has a significant rural/urban divide. Cities have a much higher levels of development and economic vitality. This economic divide manifests itself in several forms, particularly education. The cities tend to have more student funding and are able to provide better educational opportunities, especially in regard to English language instruction. Although cities are generally better off than rural areas, there is a significant poor urban population across Japan, even in the wealthiest cities such as Tokyo. As seen in the map of households receiving welfare, the highest rates tend to be in large metropolitan areas.

Another form of inequality significant for Japan is the gender disparity. Among well-developed countries, Japan’s gender inequality is pronounced, as measured by several different indices. Although Japan is often compared to the Nordic countries, it has comparatively much higher levels of gender inequality. Opportunities for Japanese women may be better than those found in less-developed countries, however,  Japan’s gender disparity is unique for its level of development.

In many regards, Japanese culture tends to value humble and reserved behavior. This tendency directly relates to perceptions of economic disparity across Japan. Although many people live below the poverty line, such poverty is often hidden. As poorer people are often ashamed about their socio-economic status, they commonly work hard to “keep face” by seeming to be better off than they actually are. Such behavior makes economic inequality in Japan particularly easy to overlook. Furthermore, reserved attitudes make it difficult for the poorer population, as Japanese society as a whole is against inserting themselves in other’s lives, and hence often refrain from helping others economically. In contrast to many other countries, Japan tends to keep poverty out of sight and mind (the victims of the recent tsunami are an exception here.) Japanese culture is conducive to maintaining an illusion of greater equality than what actually exists.

Another major difference between Japan and most other countries is that the Japanese tend to not discuss or identify with a particular “social class.” Although people often know who is “binbo” (poor) and who is “okane-mochi” (money-holding, rich), politics are generally not based around such distinctions. As a result, the government’s ability to pursue class-based policies is limited, leaving poorer citizens’ interests neglected.

Percentage of Children in Poverty

A 2006 OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) report on inequality in Japan provides insight on inequality in Japan. It shows that inequality has been increasing recently, linked to the stagnation of the Japanese economy. The report demonstrates that in some ways, Japan may actually have a less equal distribution of wealth than the OECD average. Although income disparities in Japan are lower than in most OECD countries, taxes and transfers do not always benefit those in need. In particular, the system of financial reallocation has been slightly regressive; as a result, the percentage of children living in poverty in Japan has increased since the 1980s if one takes into account taxes and transfers. In fact, Japan now clearly is above the OECD average in terms of percentage of children living in poverty. As this demonstrates, Japan is characterized by many significant hidden elements of economic inequality.

Note: Maps are taken from this map database. Also, special thanks to Tyler Mantaring for his insight.

* The Spirit Level: Why Equality Makes Societies Stronger, Bloomsbury Press, April 2010, by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson

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Vaccination, HIV Awareness, Contraception, and Literacy in India

Our final post on social development in India takes on a miscellany of indicators. The first map, showing vaccination, is notable for extreme variability, with the rate varying from 81 percent in Tamil Nadu to 21 percent in Nagaland. As expected, the center-north lags well behind the south and far north. Low rates of vaccination here are a concern, as the area is one of the world’s few remaining reservoirs of the polio virus. New immunization campaigns, however, are underway. Also notable are the very high rates of vaccination in the southeast (Andhra Pradesh and especially Tamil Nadu), and the fact that West Bengal for once outpaces Punjab, Maharashtra, and Himachal Pradesh. Clearly, the various aspects of social development advance unevenly across the states of India.

The second map, charting women’s awareness of the HIV virus, also shows pronounced variability while conforming more closely to the typical pattern of development. Of particular note are the high levels of awareness in the northeastern states of Nagaland, Manipur, and Mizoram, generally poor areas hampered by insurgency and underdeveloped infrastructure, yet nonetheless undergoing pronounced cultural modernization. Owing to widespread outreach programs, HIV awareness has been increasing across India over the past five years. In July of 2010, a train dedicated to AIDS education streamed across northern India. According to one report, “Thousands of people from villages and towns in Assam turned up to see what the seven-coach ‘Red Ribbon Express’ train had to offer, as it chugged across the remote north eastern state earlier this month. 

The train, which has counseling and medical services, and a troupe of artists on board, is traveling across India to sensitize people about HIV.”

The third map, depicting modern contraceptive use, yields a few real oddities. Note the relatively low rates of contraception in Kerala and Goa, which are well known for their below-replacement fertility levels and strikingly high levels of general social development. The fact that roughly a third of Goa’s inhabitants are Catholic may influence this figure. In general, however, religion is not a good predictor of contraceptive use. India’s three predominately Christian (Protestant) states – Mizoram, Nagaland, and Meghalaya – have some of the highest and lowest rates of modern contraceptive use.

The final map, depicting literacy, is perhaps the most important of all. Here Kerala and Mizoram really shine, as does Himachal Pradesh in the northern Himalayan belt. Assam and Madhya Pradesh have surprisingly high figures, but the most unexpected feature of this map is the low showing of both Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, seats of India’s most important information technology (IT) hubs, Bangalore and Hyderabad. Despite major investments, both states contain pockets of entrenched poverty and illiteracy, lagging well behind Tamil Nadu and Kerala in across-the-board social development. Some of the IT magnates of southern India, along with the country’s Human Resources Development Ministry, think that a soon-to-be-released $35 computer will help address the problem. “The hope is that an affordable computer will allow more students of all ages to engage in today’s digital world, increasing the country’s standards in education and also spurring economic stimulation.”

Tomorrow’s post will conclude our exploration of Indian development.

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Women’s Status and Sex Ratios in India

Several recent Geocurrents posts have addressed the status of women in India. Today we examine it more directly, using three indicators. The maps they generate, posted above, conform imperfectly to India’s basic geographical pattern of development, with several striking divergences.

The data used in the first map, “Currently Married Women Who Usually Participate in Household Decisions,” presumably refers to major household decisions, but even so the figures are distressingly low. The main bright spot is the extreme northeast, particularly the states of Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Manipur. Female empowerment in this region reflects its tribal background and Southeast Asian cultural affiliations. Women’s authority is pronounced in some northeastern ethnic groups. Among the Khasi, the largest ethnic group of Meghalaya, descent is traced in the female line, and women traditionally manage household affairs. The Wikipedia notes that “the Khasi have an unusual dedication toward matrilineal customs.” Or as one recent article inimitably puts it, “In Meghalaya, women enjoy pivotal liberty & independence. Many look after their own importance & earn their livelihood & great success… Hence … women’s anticipation is evident in all its glory in Meghalaya’s unique women centric community.”

The other major oddity in this map is the poor ranking of West Bengal, lowest in the country. West Bengal is not a prosperous state, but it does reasonably well on many social indices, and it is noted for its intellectual traditions and left-leaning electorate. That it would rank substantially lower than Bihar on such an important indicator seems bizarre. Minor oddities include the average results of the generally progressive states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir, as well as the high showing of Assam.

In the second map, “Ever-Married Women Who Have Ever Experienced Spousal Violence,” Bihar reverts to its accustomed last place. Several other features of this map are also familiar: the far north does well, particularly Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, as do Kerala and Goa in the south. Most unusual, however, is the strikingly low position of Tamil Nadu, where 41.9 percent of ever-married women are reported to have been victims of spousal violence. Another unexpected result is Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh besting Maharashtra. It is possible, however, that the data are inaccurate. Surveys respondents are not always fully representative, and there is often resistance to answering invasive questions. The answers solicited, moreover, reflect the skill and demeanor of those carrying out the research, which can vary from state to state.

In basic demographic matters such as sex ratio, by contrast, the data are solid. The sex ratio map posted here is a bit dated, but the basic patterns have not changed: the diffusion of sonograms and other technologies for fetal sex-selection has skewed sex ratios toward males across almost all of India. In 2001, only Kerala had more females than males; given the biologically determined longer life expectancy of women, this is what we would see everywhere were it not for deliberate interventions.

The most striking aspect of the sex ratio map is the location of the male-biased core zone, which straddles India’s basic developmental divide. The entire middle and upper Ganges basin forms the focal point of boy-preference, whether in the prosperous state of Punjab or in impoverished Uttar Pradesh. At a more local level, however, class and region interact in highly complex ways. According to one recent study, the lowest sex ratio in India – 707 females per 1000 males – is found among poor residents of the country’s wealthiest political subdivision, the Union Territory* of Chandigarh, which serves as the capital city of both Punjab and Haryana. Chandigarh, known as the “city beautiful” and famed for having been partially planned by the Swiss modernist Le Corbusier, is rated as India’s cleanest city, but its slums are rapidly expanding due to migration from surrounding rural areas.

India’s low sex ratios are a major national concern, leading to a number of proposed and enacted reforms. In July 2010, officials in Punjab announced that the number of girls (0 to 6 years of age) in the state per 1000 boys had increased from 798 in 2001 to 850 today. They attributed this gain to “the tough measures taken by the state government to ensure there was no violation of the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique (PNDT) Act” (which banned sex-selective abortion). Also of note is the “Save Our Daughters India Project,” launched on July 17, 2010 by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, a former president of India.

*India’s highest-order political subdivisions are divided between its twenty-eight states, which are mapped here, and its seven much smaller and less autonomous union territories, which generally are not. In most cases, the data used to compile these maps did not include the union territories. A few maps, however, including the first two posted today, do show the National Capital Territory of Delhi, which is officially classified as a union territory.

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Media Exposure and Gender Disparities in India

One of the more unusual measurements of social development collected in the Indian National Family Health Survey and posted on the Wikipedia is that of “media awareness,” defined as the percentage of people in a given state “exposed to the media.” The data were collected separately for men and women, and providing a measure not just of exposure to the wider world but also of gender disparities.

The first map, showing male media exposure, fits India’s general developmental pattern relatively well. Southern India ranks high, especially the four states of the far south that speak Dravidian rather than Indo-European languages. The far northeast shows its typical variability. The high rates found in Mizoram correlate with that state’s elevated levels of literacy, attributable to the efforts of Protestant missionaries (roughly 75 percent of the state’s residents are Presbyterian). Manipur’s ranking, second highest in the country, is more difficult to explain. The map also shows some unusual features. In the progressive far north, Haryana comes in with an unexpectedly low figure. In the languishing north-central belt, the normal pattern is reversed, with Bihar and Uttar Pradesh outranking the states immediately to their south. The extremely low figures for Jharkhand, however, are not surprising. Jharkhand’s substantial mineral wealth inflates many of its developmental figures. But the state as a whole remains deeply impoverished, and its large tribal population (28 percent) includes many who live far beyond the reach of information technology.

The media exposure map for women is similar to that for men, although the disparity between “high” states and “low” states is more pronounced (note the adjusted numerical cut-off points in this map’s key). The overall impression is one of a reversed center-periphery dynamic, with high levels of television and radio exposure found in India’s extreme south, north, and east (Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, and Manipur) and low levels in the central areas. Jharkhand’s and Bihar’s female media exposure rates in particular are shockingly low (at 39 and 41 percent respectively).

The final map highlights the gender discrepancies revealed by the first two maps. Three central-northern states stand out; here as with other indicators, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan show low levels of female empowerment, part of why they fare so poorly in terms of general social development.

To be sure, increased media exposure is not a purely positive development. Environmentalists decry it as a spur to consumerism, while advocates of cultural diversity warn of increasing uniformity. Not surprisingly, the spread of radio, television, and video has been linked to the “flagging fortunes of traditional and folk media, [including] street theater.”

Meanwhile, as usual, globalization provides its own “difference engine.” The media streaming into rural villages is not necessarily of Indian origin. In the far northeast, residents of Manipur and especially Nagaland are apparently tuning in to South Korean frequencies. Journalist Renchano Humtsoe is worth quoting on this issue at some length:

“Korean culture is flooding into Nagaland. New trade treaties between India and Korea facilitated the exchange of Korean goods and enabled them to enter Nagaland with greater ease. Additionally, Nagas have long felt neglected by the central Indian government. This is especially the case with Naga youth. Many believe this lack of identity with central India informs Nagas’ embrace of Korean culture. […] Naga youth have now started to adapt Korean culture. Korean television channels, programs, movies, and clothes are popular among Naga youth. Korean companies are looking into investing in Nagaland. The Nagaland State Government has even taken steps to embrace Korean culture: it hosts an annual Indian-Korean cultural festival.”

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