Monday, October 31, 2016

New Alert! TV shows not representative of reality.

I've wondered about this for a long time. How big a mismatch is there between the demographics of criminals and the demographics of victims in TV shows and those in the real world?

My impression has been that white women are disproportionately represented as victims of crime in TV shows. That whites in general are overrepresented as perpetrators of crime. That men are generally underreperesented and that black men are especially underrepresented as both victims and perpetrators. In addition, there seems to be a bias in TV against smart people/upper class people. A disproportionate number of crimes on TV are committed by relatively intelligent people with a great deal of planning and intent compared to the reality.

The Face of Crime in Prime Time: Evidence from Law and Order by Gaurav Sood and Daniel Trielli looked into it. From the abstract:
Race, gender, and crime are inextricably linked in people's minds. And television programming is thought to strongly influence how they are linked. We investigate the extent to which popular television programming perpetuates stereotypical linkages by tallying the race and gender of criminals and victims in three popular series of the most successful criminal procedural franchise on television --- Law & Order. Using data from a census of the shows from aired seasons of Special Victims Unit and Criminal Intent series, and data from seven seasons of the Original series, we find that whites and women are overrepresented (and blacks and men underrepresented), both as victims and as criminals. In particular, blacks are dramatically underrepresented both as criminals and as victims, with actual arrest rate and violent victimization rate of blacks nearly 300% and 200% respectively of the commensurate numbers for the show.
My gut sense appears to have been directionally correct. It is great that the authors provide an effect size for the measured phenomenon.

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