Racial and gender disparities in the portrayal of lawyers and physicians on television
(1) Michael E. DeBakey High School for Health Professions, Houston, Texas, (2) Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
Mass media’s portrayal of minorities and women in society has the potential to shape perception and affect behavior. Our objective was to examine minority and gender representation in professional roles as lawyers and physicians on television. We hypothesized that minorities and women are less likely to be represented in these roles on television compared to White men. In addition, we hypothesized that the lower fictional representations of minorities and women as professionals would be mirrored by lower rates of minorities and women in actual legal and medical practice. We analyzed medical and legal primetime dramas featuring lawyers and physicians to determine the race and gender of the lead character(s). The distribution of fictional minority and female professionals was compared to a racial distribution obtained from the 2020 US census, as well as data on the race and gender of lawyers and physicians in practice. Our findings showed fictional lawyers and physicians on television were predominantly White and male. The next most common groups represented were Black lawyers and physicians. There were no major Hispanic or Asian lawyers and only one Hispanic and Asian male physician represented. Women were underrepresented as both lawyers and physicians. When compared to the expected population demographic data from the 2020 census, both racial and gender disparity were noted, with significantly fewer than expected fictional representations of minority and female lawyers and physicians. The racial and gender disparity found with fictional lawyers and physicians mirrored lower numbers of minority and female lawyers and physicians in actual practice.
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