New Research: Seniors on the Small Screen

Rita Moreno in One Day at a Time

A new report from the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative underscores just how lacking U.S. television is in faces over the age of 60. Titled “Seniors on the Small Screen,” the study was “comprised of two samples of popular television series airing between June 1, 2016 and May 31, 2017. Popularity was determined based on Nielsen Average Audience Rating Percentage. The first sample includes the 50 most popular television series among viewers age 18-49. The second sample includes the 50 most popular television series among viewers age 65 and older.”

I’ve reproduce a few of the charts from the report, with key findings. Read the full report for complete details. There’s much more there than my quick summary. The paragraphs accompanying the charts are all direct quotes from the report.

Less than 10% of speaking parts are characters over 60

less than 10% of speaking parts are characters over 60

Race and Ethnic Representation

Across the 72 unique shows, 72.2% of senior characters are White, 14.6% Black/African American, 6.6% Hispanic/Latino, 1.3% Asian, and 5.3% from Mixed Race/Other groups.

 Across the 72 unique shows, 72.2% of senior characters are White, 14.6% Black/African American, 6.6% Hispanic/Latino, 1.3% Asian, and 5.3% from Mixed Race/Other groups.

LGBTQ

Seniors accounted for 4 out of the 48 LGBT series regulars. Of these, 3 were male (2 bisexual, 1 gay) and 1 was a transgender female. In terms of invisibility, 68 out of 72 shows were devoid of senior LGBT series regulars.
Less than 10% of characters are LGBTQ

Things Need to Change

Taken together, senior characters in popular television programming were primarily White, straight, and male. Senior females—particularly those from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups—were rarely depicted on screen. These trends are disconcerting, particularly as senior women outnumber senior men in the U.S. The lack of representation among this segment of the television audience suggests that seniors rarely see themselves or their stories reflected on screen.

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