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The portrayal of men and women in U.S. television commercials: A recent content analysis and trends over 15 years

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This article summarizes the content analyses of male and female portrayals in U.S. television commercials that have been published since 1971. The paper also includes the results of a content analysis of television commercials conducted on a 1985 sample. Where possible, the data from the present study are compared to the findings of previous research to illustrate trends over time. The results reveal several differences between the portrayal of men and women, but many of the gaps seem to be narrowing. Men and women now appear equally often as central characters in prime-time commercials. Although a prior study indicated a difference between male and female primary characters' use of arguments, the present data revealed no differences in this regard. A lower percentage of female than of male central characters are depicted as employed, but males are being presented in increasing numbers as spouses and parents, with no other apparent occupation. Women are still more likely than men to be seen in domestic settings, advertising products used in the home. Although the difference seems to have become smaller, women are more likely than men to be shown as users of the products they advertise. The most striking gap persists with regard to narrators. Consistent with other content analyses conducted over the past 15 years, approximately 90% of all narrators are male. The findings are discussed in terms of the potential effect of exposure to stereotyped depictions on viewers' sex role attitudes.

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The authors would like to thank Mark Longua for his contribution as a reliability coder.

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Bretl, D.J., Cantor, J. The portrayal of men and women in U.S. television commercials: A recent content analysis and trends over 15 years. Sex Roles 18, 595–609 (1988).

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