Young People's Attitudes Towards Family Planning in North India
Updated: Sep 18
At Quilt.AI, we love studying human behavior on the Internet. This not only pertains to how people interact with brands or project themselves online, but also how they think and act on issues related to climate change, sexuality, and public health.
This week, we set out to understand the attitudes and behavior of Indian youth towards family planning.
With a population of over 1.2 billion, India is likely to become the most populous country in the world by 2027. While family planning is a human right, this growth poses a big challenge to healthcare access, especially for women. One in five women worldwide with an unmet need in family planning are in India. Family planning initiatives are, thus, not just vital for boosting India’s Per Capita GDP by 2031, but also for the attainment of gender equity. Young people (who make up roughly 34% of the population) play an important role in ascertaining this.
With more and more youth accessing the Internet in India, their online behavior offers us insights into their attitudes towards just about everything. In two of India’s high-focus states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, 25 million youth (age 16–24 years) are online. What are their attitudes towards family planning? What kind of content do they consume online? Which digital platforms do they use? We set forth to find out.
General Attitudes Towards Family Planning and Related Online Behavior
With the help of our Culture AI, we crunched 5,000,000 searches, 20,000 data points from 4 social platforms, and 1,200 news articles and blogs to understand the stated and unstated behavior of Indian youth on the Internet. We found that each online platform has its own unique skew based on topics of interest (related to family planning) and forms of engagement.
On Google Search, queries primarily center around pregnancy concerns and condom usage, accounting for more than 70% of total interest. Uttar Pradesh has roughly 3 times as many total searches on family planning compared to Bihar.
On YouTube, videos on family planning are mostly created and uploaded by civil society organizations. In Bihar, these videos often target male migrants who come home during religious celebrations, emphasizing the male role around child spacing decisions and birth control. In Uttar Pradesh, patriarchal views and norms towards family planning are addressed through personal testimonies and candid interviews with couples.
There is limited discourse around family planning on Facebook. The few that are present revolve around traditional beliefs and social norms, employing story-telling and third-person narratives on issues such as abortion.
On Twitter, we see a male skew compared to other platforms. Religious moralism surfaces in relation to anti-abortion, while sectarian politics has been trending in Uttar Pradesh. Interestingly, Bihar has a higher number of awareness-raising interventions around family planning and a stronger advocacy community. An emerging discussion is around nature related superstitions and remedies for family planning related issues. The 16–24-year-old demographic also engages in casual humor, particularly on condoms.
Tik Tok, on the other hand, has a strong female skew and represents a younger age demographic than other platforms. Although currently banned in India, until recently, it contained three main types of family planning narratives: anti-abortion videos; bridging the generational gap between older, patriarchal values and new, emerging values; and casual humor normalizing the narrative on family planning through jokes.
When it comes to news articles and blogs, many reports are about the shortage of contraceptives at pharmacies in both Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Bihar also has a lot of news about kidnappings and forced abortions in other states, while in Uttar Pradesh, there is a greater focus on sharing information about government programs and family planning services.
It is clear that young people use each social platform differently. It’s not a matter of either-or, but how. While some platforms (such as Facebook and Twitter) are used to engage with macro issues such as news, politics, and celebrities, we see more personalized interaction on others (like Tik Tok and Instagram). Further, online interests and behavior vary based on whether it’s publicly visible or privately consumed (like in the case of Google Search and YouTube). These are important considerations to keep in mind when it comes to taboo topics like sex and family planning.
Rational Skeptics to Traditional Conformists, 8 Distinct Profiles Based on Online Behaviour
We found 8 distinct profile clusters in the digital behavior data related to family planning:
Conformists constitute 38% of the target population and hold patriarchal views on family planning and support deeply entrenched, male-dominated norms in Indian society. They express disdain for using condoms because it inhibits pleasure.
Spiritualists constitute 21% of the target population and hold great reverence for nature and unknown spiritual forces and have a preference for a less-interventional approach to family planning. Preferring abstinence over contraceptives, they view an unexpected pregnancy as a gift from Mother Earth.
Skeptics constitute 15% of the target population and believe that practicing family planning makes rational sense. However, the evidence is dubious and needs to be watertight before they engage in the practice. For example, condom usage is facing a backlash from this segment because the supply and quality of condoms in India are unreliable.
Crusaders constitute 9% of the target population and are driven by passion against what they see as injustice towards women and children. For those who support family planning, they position it as a women’s right to her body and her life. Those in the other camp focus on the right to life of the child.
Activists constitute 6% of the target population and use comedy or dark humor to introduce topics such as condom usage into societies where sex and reproduction are still taboo subjects.
Persuaders constitute 6% of the target population and use the concepts of truth and facts as their persuasive strategy to raise awareness. They repost content from big organizations or institutions and align with global movements to lend credibility to their arguments.
Moralists constitute 4% of the target population and tend to hold very strong views both in support of and against family planning and use moralistic arguments to condemn the other side. They often use gruesome pictures as a way to scare their viewers into submission.
Experientialists constitute 1% of the target population) use other people’s personal experiences to raise awareness and invite engagement.
The inherent biases of each profile of young people are contextual and psychological, and their micro-assumptions, beliefs, and affiliations need to be addressed accordingly. The supporters of family planning need to be empowered with the necessary information and platforms to spread awareness, while the non-believers need to be brought back from fringe narratives and educated with accurate information.
“Nudging” Attitudes and Behavior Through Digital Interventions
Traditionally, behavior change interventions arrive at a single message or call to action for all, treating its stakeholders as a homogenous group. We believe that packaging our message to appeal to each distinct audience profile is key. This, combined with a disruptive scale (imagine hundreds of strategically-tailored content delivered to each person in our target population every day), has tremendous transformative potential.
To do this, organizations can undertake various digital interventions to “nudge” attitudes and behavior of youth on family planning: redirect search engine traffic towards more reliable information on the topic, targeted advertisements on video platforms, and a real estate takeover to drop relevant content on their timelines.
Additionally, the type and tone of the content for each audience profile must draw from what we know about their beliefs, motivations, and online behavior on each platform. Traditional campaign messaging is often in a pedantic or educational tone and the same content is pushed across platforms. For communication on family planning to be effective, it needs to be crafted in a way that caters to the unique needs of the target audience.
For example, the Skeptics must be shown examples of small, positive changes brought about by family planning using data backed by institutions, while the Moralists must be shown positive religious voices talking about the importance of birth control. Further, the format of this content must vary by platform; for example, through a ‘fun’ act on TikTok, or a more detailed, informative video or article on Facebook.
The Internet provides us direct access to 25 million young people in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar alone. This is our best chance to engage with them directly and quickly through communication and interventions that are tailored to their specific needs in order to influence their attitudes and behavior towards family planning.
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