Contributions of Television Use to Beliefs About Fathers and Gendered Family Roles Among First-Time Expectant Parents

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Abstract

TV content has been documented to portray a limited range of gender roles, and to frequently depict fathers as incompetent parents. Accordingly, this study explored whether first-time expectant parents’ beliefs about gendered family roles and the importance of fathers to child development were related to their TV use. Participants were 201 individuals (122 women, 79 men) from across the United States expecting their first biological child in a cohabiting heterosexual relationship. Participants completed an online survey assessing weekly TV exposure, exposure to TV programs featuring fathers, perceived realism of TV, use of TV to learn about the world, and beliefs about both fathers’ importance to child development and family gender roles. Zero-order correlations indicated that increased exposure to TV in general and to programs featuring fathers, perceived realism, and stronger learning motives were each linked to less egalitarian gender role beliefs in both women and men. Among women, heavier exposure to TV in general and to programs featuring fathers, and stronger learning motives were each correlated with weaker beliefs that fathers were important to child development. Multiple regression analyses, however, indicated that attributing more realism to TV content uniquely predicted more traditional gendered family role beliefs and beliefs that fathers are less important to child development across the whole sample. Even among men with low perceived realism, greater exposure to TV fathers was linked with weaker beliefs that fathers were important to child development. First-time expectant fathers may be especially vulnerable to media messages about father roles.

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