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Content analyses of the attributes and actions of foreground characters in
organizational settings were performed. The analyses indicate that although
there has been some increase in the representation of women and some slight
increase in the heterogeneity of their occupational portrayals, women generally
remain underrepresented and limited in their depictions in prime-time
organizational settings. Women were portrayed as performing more interpersonal
actions than similar male cohorts and fewer decisional, political, and operational
Although research on occupational role portrayals on prime-time television was
conducted as early as 1951, it was not until after the women's movement gained
strength in the late 1960s and early 1970s that the portrayal of occupational
roles of women became a focus rather than an afterthought in television content
studies. Several primary objectives of the women's movement -- the
improvement of women's visibility, role diversity, and equality in the mass media
-- stimulated a number of studies on the depiction of women in popular culture
(e.g., Bate & Self, 1983; Dominick, 1979; Franzwa, 1974; Turow, 1974).
However, few subsequent studies extended these analyses into the 1980s. The
present study does so by adding a fourth decade of analysis into the portrayal of
gender and occupation on prime-time television. Additionally, this study extends
previous ones by examining the portrayal of prime-time male and femalecharacters and, most importantly and uniquely, the organizational actions they
perform in prime-time television's world of work.
Previous Research on Working Women in Prime-Time Television
Research on the portrayal of the world of work on prime-time television has
tended to focus on three general areas: representation, employment status, and
sex-typed behavioral and psychological traits. In the following section, we briefly
note key content analytic research in each of these areas over the past three
Representation. Beginning with Smythe's (1954) study four decades ago,
researchers have consistently found that women are underrepresented on
television (e.g., DeFleur, 1964; Seggar & Wheeler, 1973). Virtually no change
occurred in the 3 to 1 proportion of male to female characters on prime-time
television over the 30-year period from the 1950s through the 1970s (e.g.,
Butler & Paisley, 1980; Dominick, 1979; Greenberg, Simmons, Hogan, & Atkin,
1980; Lemon, 1974; Tedesco, 1974; U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1977,
1979). Signorielli (1989) concluded that by 1986 women were still
Employment status. Most researchers who have studied the portrayal of
occupational roles on television use the U.S. Census Bureau schema to compare
the occupational role distributions on television with those of the U.S. labor force.