Sex Roles

, Volume 10, Issue 7–8, pp 533–553 | Cite as

Sex-role stereotyping of nurses and physicians on prime-time television: A dichotomy of occupational portrayals

  • Philip A. Kalisch
  • Beatrice J. Kalisch


Utilizing the methodology of content analysis, this study investigates the sexrole variables in prime-time television portrayals of nurses and physicians from 1950 to 1980. A 20% sample of 28 relevant series yielded 320 individual episodes, 240 nurse characters, and 287 physicians characters. Results show extreme levels of both sexual and occupational stereotyping. Television nurses are 99% female, and television physicians are 95% male. The cluster of sex and occupational role characteristics, personality attributes, primary values, career orientation, professional competencies, and the tone of nurse-physician relationships converge to yield an image of the female professional nurse as totally dependent on and subservient to male physicians. The development of this dichotomous sex and occupational role imagery has resulted in male television physicians who not only have outstanding medical competencies but also embrace all the attractive competencies of professional nurses. Television nurses largely serve as window dressing on the set and have little opportunity to contribute to patient welfare. Action is needed to improve the quality of nurse portrayals by making them more congruent with the real world of work in health care.


Personality Attribute Professional Competency Extreme Level Professional Nurse Career Orientation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bell, R. M. A study of the image of the American character as presented in selected network television dramas. Doctoral dissertation, Ohio State University, 1961.Google Scholar
  2. Beuf, A. Doctor, lawyer, household drudge. Journal of Communication, 1974, 24, 142–145.Google Scholar
  3. Bower, R. T. Television and the public. New York: Holt, 1973.Google Scholar
  4. Busby, L. J. Sex-role research on the mass media. Journal of Communication, 1975, 25, 107–131.Google Scholar
  5. Courtney, A. E., & Whipple, T. W. Women in TV commercials. Journal of Communication, 1974, 24, 110–118.Google Scholar
  6. De Fleur, M. Occupational roles as portrayed on television. Public Opinion Quarterly, 1964, 25, 54–74.Google Scholar
  7. Dominick, J. R. The portrayal of women in prime time, 1953–1977. Sex Roles, 1979, 5, 405–411.Google Scholar
  8. Dominick, J., & Rauch, G. E. The image of women in TV commercials. Journal of Broadcasting, 1972, 16, 259–265.Google Scholar
  9. Drabman, R. S., Robertson, S. J., Patterson, J. N., Jarvie, G. J., Hammer, D., & Cordua, G. Children's perceptions of media-portrayed sex roles. Sex Roles, 1981, 1, 379–389.Google Scholar
  10. Franzwa, H. The image of women in television: An annotated bibliography. In Hearth and Home, ed. Tuchman, G., Daniels, A. K., & Benet, J. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978, 272–299.Google Scholar
  11. Frueh, T., & McGhee, P. E. Traditional sex role development and amount of time spent watching television. Developmental Psychology, 1975, 11, 109.Google Scholar
  12. Hodges, K. K., Brandt, D. A., & Kline, J. Competence, guilt, and victimization: Sex differences in attribution of causality in television drama. Sex Roles, 1981, 7, 537–546.Google Scholar
  13. Lemon, J. Dominant or dominated? Women on prime-time television. In G. Tuchman, A. Kaplan, & J. Benet (Eds.), Hearth and home. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. Pp. 116–129.Google Scholar
  14. Mankiewicz, F., & Swerdlow, J. Sex roles in TV: Co-opted liberation. Television Quarterly, 1977–1978, 14, 7.Google Scholar
  15. McArthur, L. Z., & Eisen, S. V. Television and sex-role stereotyping. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 1976, 6, 329–351.Google Scholar
  16. McArthur, L. Z., & Resko, B. G. The portrayal of men and women in American television commercials. Journal of Social Psychology, 1975, 97, 209–220.Google Scholar
  17. McGhee, P. E., & Frueh, T. Television viewing and the learning of sex-role stereotypes. Sex Roles, 1980, 6, 1980, 6, 179–188.Google Scholar
  18. Mills, K. Fighting sexism on the airwaves. Journal of Communication, 1974, 24, 150–155.Google Scholar
  19. O'Donnell, W. J., & O'Donnell, K. J. Update: Sex-role messages in TV commercials. Journal of Communication, 1978, 28, 155–158.Google Scholar
  20. Peevers, B. H. Androgyny on the TV screen? An analysis of sex-role portrayal. Sex Roles, 1979, 5, 797–809.Google Scholar
  21. Seggar, J. F., & Wheeler, P. World of work on TV: Ethnic and sex representations in TV drama. Journal of Broadcasting, 1973, 19, 201–214.Google Scholar
  22. Signorielli, N. Men and women in television drama: The use of two multi-variate techniques for isolating dimensions of characterization. Doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1975.Google Scholar
  23. Smythe, D. Reality as presented by television. Public Opinion Quarterly, 1954, 18, 143–156.Google Scholar
  24. Sternglanz, S. H., & Serbin, L. A. Sex role stereotyping in children's television programs. Developmental Psychology, 1974, 10, 710–715.Google Scholar
  25. Streicher, H. W. The girls in the cartoons. Journal of Communication, 1974, 24, 125–129.Google Scholar
  26. Tedesco, N. S. Patterns in prime time. Journal of Communication, 1974, 15, 55–64.Google Scholar
  27. Turow, J. Advising and ordering: Daytime, primetime. Journal of Communication, 1974, 24, 138–141.Google Scholar
  28. U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Window dressing on the set. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979.Google Scholar
  29. Weibel, K. P. Life styles and ethical values of men and women on television, 1960–1974. Doctoral dissertation, Michigan State University, 1975.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philip A. Kalisch
    • 1
  • Beatrice J. Kalisch
    • 1
  1. 1.Politics, and Economics of NursingUniversity of MichiganAnn Arbor

Personalised recommendations