TV Commercials Color Gender Choices for Careers

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WEDNESDAY, May 28 (HealthDay News) -- The way that men and women are portrayed in television commercials can have a major impact on how people behave in their daily lives, suggests a University of New Hampshire study.

It found that men, in particular, are influenced by commercials that more often depict them in a career setting than doing domestic chores.

"Gender is one of the most studied social concepts, as it is the main standard that people use in determining how to act and interact with others. Because television advertisements transmit cultural ideas about gender, they help to socially construct gender. Commercials may affect the way that people think about their own gender, and contribute to the ongoing social stratification of genders in our society," study author Valerie Hooper, a graduating senior in sociology, said in a prepared statement.

She analyzed 1,538 commercials shown on four channels over one week during primetime viewing (8 to 10 p.m.).

Among Hooper's findings:

  • Men are portrayed as the main character of commercials more than women -- 55. percent vs. 44.5 percent.
  • Most commercials featuring women focus on selling home products, such as food, cleaners, personal care items and furniture (51.1 percent).
  • Men are most likely to be engaged in work behavior in commercials (34.2 percent), while women are least likely to depicted working outside the home (13.1 percent).
  • Only 2.1 percent of commercials showed men doing domestic chores, such as cooking, cleaning or caring for children.

"These stereotypes are considered outdated by many members of American society, yet still continue to pervade the media. These depictions not only defy the idea that diversity is becoming more accepted in society, but also completely ignore the fact that it is now a material need for both men and women to work and perform domestic duties, as most American families cannot survive on one income alone," Hooper said.

In the second part of the study, Hooper had a group of university students watch a number of commercials and then discuss their life goals for the next five to 10 years.

Males who watched commercials with a male main character in a traditional, stereotypical male role were more likely to say they favored life goals related to a career, while males who watched commercials with a male main character in a non-stereotypical male role were more likely to favor domestic-related life goals.

While the same trends were noted in females, the results were not as strong as in the males.

"The subtle implications of gender roles in commercials can influence self concept and future goals, particularly in the case of males. Although effects in the study were presumably temporary, one must keep in mind that individuals watch millions of commercials over the course of their lifetime," Hooper said.

She presented the study at the university's recent Undergraduate Research Conference.

More information

Learn more about gender differences and conflicts at Trinity University.