A Content Analysis Television Family Sitcoms 1950-Present: A Comparison to United States Census Data on Family Structure

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Abstract Summary



It is well known that television sitcoms do not always reflect reality (e.g., McLanahan & Percheski, 2008; Pomerantz, 2004), but it is not clear how far such shows are from reality. This study used content analysis to compare the portrayal of families in the most popular television family sitcoms to the United States Census data for families. The study focused on the time period from 1950 to 2010. Nielsen ratings provided information on the top ten family sitcoms and family-centered shows of each decade. A content analysis was conducted of the family structure within the ten most popular shows that aired during each of the seven decades. Two-parent households, divorced couples, and number of children were analyzed, and comparisons were made to the U.S. Census data (2017) for that decade.


In our content analysis, we found that two-parent families continue to dominate television sitcoms. In addition, there is a greater diversity of family forms, both in TV and in real life. These findings provide implications for viewers as well as producers of television shows. In terms of television viewers: television impacts how people view society as well as themselves. Families in television sitcoms model family life and have been viewed as important socializing agents, as they offer lessons about what is seen as appropriate family life. In terms of television producers: they need to consider the diversity of families and opportunities to more accurately reflect families.





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