TV Commercials Influence What You Want to Do in Life, New Research Shows
By Lori Wright, Media Relations
May 14, 2008
If women find their husbands reluctant to fold the laundry or wash the dishes,
they may want to hide the television remote. New research from UNH shows that
men, in particular, are influenced by television commercials that more often
portray them in a career environment than doing domestic duties.
The results are reported in “Portrayals of Gender in Television Commercials
and the Effects on Achievement Aspirations of Audiences” by Valerie Hooper,
a graduating senior in sociology who studied how men and women are portrayed
in television commercials and how they respond to them. She presented her research
recently at UNH’s Undergraduate Research Conference.
The key research findings include:
Men are portrayed as the main character of commercials more than women (55.5
percent men vs. 44.5 percent women).
The majority of commercials featuring women focus on selling home products,
such as food, cleaners, personal care items and furniture (51.5 percent).
Men are most likely to be engaged in work behavior in commercials (34.2 percent).
Women are least likely to be portrayed working outside the home in commercials
(13.1 percent of women).
Only 2.1 percent of commercials featuring men showed them performing domestic
tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, or caring for children.
Men who viewed commercials with a male main character in a traditional, stereotypical
male role were more likely to favor life goals related to a career.
Men who viewed commercials with a male main character in a nontraditional,
nonstereotypical male role were more likely to favor life goals related to
the domestic sphere.
“Gender is one of the most studied social concepts as it is the main
standard that people use in determining how to act and interact with others.
Because television advertisements transmit cultural ideas about gender, they
help to socially construct gender. Commercials may affect the way that people
think about their own gender, and contribute to the ongoing social stratification
of genders in our society,” Hooper said.
Hooper’s study was two-fold. First, she conducted an analysis of the
content of a week’s worth of commercials broadcast on four channels during
primetime viewing (8 to 10 p.m.) She then assessed the commercials – 1,538
in total – based on the characters portrayed in them, paying special
attention to gender, behavior of the main characters, profession, setting,
and the type of product being promoted.
Her content analysis showed that while men and women usually are equally cast
in the commercials, men are more likely to represent non-domestic products,
to be depicted working, and to be in a work or other “non-home” setting.
Women are more likely to represent domestic products such as cleaners and foods,
to be performing domestic tasks, and to be in a home setting.
“Television commercials still greatly mimic the common stereotypes in
our society regarding life choices. Males are significantly more likely to
be shown in settings outside of the home, particularly in the workforce. Alternatively,
females are much more likely to be shown in a home setting, representing domestic
products, and performing domestic tasks,” Hooper said.
“These stereotypes are considered outdated by many members of American
society, yet still continue to pervade the media. These depictions not only
defy the idea that diversity is becoming more accepted in society, but also
completely ignore the fact that it is now a material need for both men and
women to work and perform domestic duties as most American families cannot
survive on one income alone,” she said.
Hooper then sought to determine whether how gender is portrayed in television
commercials affects the actions and ambitions of men and women. In the second
phase of the study, she showed commercials with traditional and nontraditional
gender stereotypes to groups of UNH students. After viewing the commercials,
the students were asked to discuss their life goals for the next five to 10
Her research found that men who watched commercials portraying men in traditional
roles (outside of the home, in a career environment) were more likely to emphasize
occupational goals over domestic goals. Those who viewed commercials with men
in nontraditional male roles were more likely to emphasize domestic goals.
Women who viewed commercials of women in traditional roles were more likely
to have traditional life goals, and vice versa for those who viewed commercials
with women in nontraditional roles. However, the results for women were not
“The subtle implications of gender roles in commercials can influence
self concept and future goals, particularly in the case of males. Although
effects in the study were presumably temporary, one must keep in mind that
individuals watch millions of commercials over the course of their lifetime,” Hooper