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Wanting to See People Like Me? Racial and Gender Diversity in Popular Adolescent Television


Media are one source for adolescent identity development and social identity gratifications. Nielsen viewing data across the 2014–2015 television season for adolescents ages 14–17 was used to examine racial and gender diversity in adolescent television exposure. Compared to US Census data, mainstream shows under represent women, but the proportion of Black characters is roughly representative. Black adolescents watch more television than non-Black adolescents and, after taking this into account, shows popular with Black adolescents are more likely than shows popular with non-Black adolescents to exhibit racial diversity. In addition, shows popular with female adolescents are more likely than shows popular with males to exhibit gender diversity. These results support the idea that adolescents seek out media messages with characters that are members of their identity groups, possibly because the characters serve as tools for identity development and social identity gratifications.

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Fig. 1


  1. During coding non-human characters (e.g., Aqua Teen Hungerforce) emerged as a substantial proportion of the sample, and were also coded for exploratory analysis. Shows popular with Black and male youth had significantly more non-human characters than shows popular with non-Blacks and females, respectively. However, it is unclear why male and Black adolescents should be more likely to select media content with non-human characters, and future research should consider the possible motivations.


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This study was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) (Grant No. 1R21HD079615). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the NICHD.

Author Contributions

ME conceived of the study, ran most statistical analyses, and wrote the first draft. AB participated in data analysis decision-making, ran some statistical analyses, and helped with subsequent drafts of the manuscript. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Morgan E. Ellithorpe.

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The authors report no conflict of interest.

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This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

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Ellithorpe, M.E., Bleakley, A. Wanting to See People Like Me? Racial and Gender Diversity in Popular Adolescent Television. J Youth Adolescence 45, 1426–1437 (2016).

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