Data about birth-control in India: Myths and Realities

The Asian Age has an interesting article with data on India’s birth-rates and efficacy of our birth-control programs

Here are some interesting excerpts:

good news is that the increase in contraceptive prevalence has been larger and faster among illiterate and uneducated women than those with schooling.

According to the International Institute of Population Sciences (EPW Arokiasamy 2009), more than two fifths of the reduction in Total Fertility Rate country-wide is attributable to illiterate women. The study calls it “remarkable demographic behaviour which has given significant direct health benefits to women and children — almost equal to what educational improvement has done for progress in human development.”

But all is not good:

Now some disappointments: States which continue to lag behind are the same — Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan — some 284 problem districts account for nearly half India’s population and 60 per cent of the yearly births countrywide.


Among 18 to 24-year-old couples the contraceptive prevalence rate is not even 19 per cent. In many districts it is as low as 10 per cent. According to NFHS -3 and the latest Annual Health Survey, in Bihar more than half the women in the child bearing group are not using any family planning method.

and the worst part is:

In India, female sterilization continues to be the most dominant method of birth control even though women overwhelmingly favour non-invasive options.


In the absence of tools that do not depend on partner-co-operation (condoms) or adherence to rigid regimens (pills), a poor woman confronts the prospect of an unwanted pregnancies every month, until somebody agrees to escort her for an operation.

Do Muslims procreate much more than Hindus? Apparently, Muslims are a little worse off in this aspect, but not as bad as is widely believed. Here is the data:

That brings one to a widespread myth relating to the practice of contraception by religion. Professor P.M. Kulkarni at JNU who has researched differentials in population growth among Hindus and Muslims (using NFHS data) says that all religious communities have experienced substantial fertility decline and contraceptive practice has been well accepted by all. Within religious faiths, 85 per cent of Hindu women would like to limit the family to two children whereas in the case of Muslim women, the figure is 66 per cent.


The belief that religion and religious fiats discourage contraception among Muslims is not borne out by statistics.

An even more significant aspect of his analysis of NFHS data shows that the unmet need for family planning is one and a half times more among Muslim women than Hindu women.

Another interesting aspect is that the kinds of contraceptives preferred by Muslim women is different from that of Hindus:

In terms of contraceptive use, Muslim women’s use of the pill is almost twice that of Hindu women and the use of IUD is also higher compared to Hindu women. Two things can be concluded: First that among the rural poor, the difference in fertility between Hindus and Muslims is not as marked as is usually supposed.

Second: there is a perceptible difference in the preferred method of contraception: Muslim women seem to be more open to the use of it.

Read the full article for more details.

Research: Which skills result in increased salary/career success has an interesting article about a study of what skills/tactics correlate with higher salaries. Specifically, the authors analyzed 200 studies of career success and their causes, and tried to figure out what skills have the highest correlation with higher salaries.

According to the article, here is what results in highest chances of success:

  • Find managers (or other seniors) who will “sponsor” you (i.e. take an interest in advancing your career)
  • Be politically savvy
  • Convincing people with rational arguments works better than lying to them
  • Flattery works (especially if the target does not realize you’re trying to flatter them; but even when the target realizes it)
  • Act modest
  • Avoid blatant self-promotion

Here are some interesting excerpts which give interesting data-points and actual numbers from the study:

Ng et al. performed a metastudy of over 200 individual studies of objective and subjective career success. Here are the variables they found best correlated with salary:



Political Knowledge & Skills


Education Level


Cognitive Ability (as measured by standardized tests)




Training and Skill Development Opportunities


Hours Worked


Career Sponsorship


(all significant at p = .05)

(For reference, the “Big 5” personality traits all have a correlation under 0.12.)

Before you get carried away, remember this:

Before we go on, a few caveats: while these correlations are significant and important, none are overwhelming (the authors cite Cohen as saying the range 0.24-0.36 is “medium” and correlations over 0.37 are “large”).

This table gives an idea of which tactics work best for career success. Higher numbers are good. Lower numbers indicate that those tactics don’t really work. Negative numbers indicate that those tactics will actually hurt your chances.

Recently, Higgins et al. reviewed 23 individual studies of these tactics and how they relate to career success. Their results:



Definition (From Higgins et al.)



Using data and information to make a logical argument supporting one’s request



Using behaviors designed to increase the target’s liking of oneself or to make oneself appear friendly in order to get what one wants

Upward Appeal


Relying on the chain of command, calling in superiors to help get one’s way



Attempting to create an appearance of competence or that you are capable

of completing a task



Using a forceful manner to get what one wants



Making an explicit offer to do something for another in exchange for their doing what

one wants

(Only ingratiation and rationality are significant.)

This site has a lot of information on how to make rational appeals, so I will focus on the less-talked-about ingratiation techniques.

So, modesty is good, self-promotion is bad. Here are details of how to present yourself:

Self-presentation is split further:


Weighted Effect Size






Apologizing for poor performance



When the participant is told in generic terms to improve their self-presentation



Nonverbal behavior and name usage


Nonverbal behavior includes things like wearing perfume. Name usage means referring to people by name instead of a pronoun.

And finally some more details about flattery:

If you are talking to your boss, your tactics should be different than if you’re talking to a subordinate. Other-enhancement (flattery) is always the best tactic no matter who you’re talking to, but when talking to superiors it’s by far the best. When talking to those at similar levels to you, opinion conformity comes close to flattery, and the other techniques aren’t far behind.

Unsurprisingly, when the target realizes you’re being ingratiating, the tactic is less effective. (Although effectiveness doesn’t go to zero – even when people realize you’re flattering them just to suck up, they generally still appreciate it.) Also, women are better at being ingratiating than men, and men are more influenced by these ingratiating tactics than women.

Read the full article, it has a bunch of interesting references that the motivated reader is urged to read.

More information and openness is not always a good thing – via @TimHarford

Tim Harford has an interesting article on the murkier side of transparency – i.e. how more information is not always better.

For example, he talks about how Toronto installed countdown timers at various traffic signals, giving pedestrians an idea of how many seconds they have to cross the road. Since they installed these signals on only some intersections and not others, some researchers used this opportunity to study the impact of the timers on the accident rate.

Their findings:

You might well anticipate that the countdowns would make junctions less dangerous, by telling pedestrians whether or not they have time to cross in safety. Toronto’s traffic planners certainly seemed to believe that would be the case. They were wrong. The new signals caused more accidents.

How is this possible? Here is the suggested explanation:

If a signal is about to turn red for pedestrians crossing at a junction, then drivers who are trying to get across the junction in the same direction are also about to get a red light. Since there was more speeding and more rear-end collisions after the countdown signals were installed, Kapoor and Magesan reckon the natural explanation is that some drivers were accelerating into the junction to avoid being delayed, just as other drivers were slowing down.

This idea, that more information can actually hurt, shows up in other places too. Here is an example of a study conducted on hospitals which insisted that success rates of individual doctors/surgeons be published.

Ten years ago, David Dranove, Daniel Kessler, Mark McClellan and Mark Satterthwaite looked at the impact of mandatory “report cards” in New York and Pennsylvania, which published data on the performance of individual doctors, hospitals or both.

One might imagine that this information would, at the very least, be convenient. At best it should spur physicians to improve their skills because patients would seek out the very best. But the researchers looked at the impact on cardiac surgery, and found a tragic side effect: once doctors and hospitals knew that their success rates would be published, they had a strong incentive to operate on the healthiest patients. The best hospitals had their pick of the sick and selected easy cases. Meanwhile patients with more complicated conditions were more likely to have surgery postponed. The net result: more money was spent, yet more people died of heart attacks.

In other words, sometimes it pays to make information available only selectively:

Publishing clear information is often a way to make the world a better place – but not always. Sometimes it pays to be selective. Doctors could benefit from report cards, provided their patients never find out what they said. And Toronto’s countdown signals would work perfectly if only they could be hidden from drivers.

Read the full article