Study: TV depicts working-class fathers less able than middle-class dads

An interesting study with Father's Day approaching shows that television sitcoms depict working-class fathers less favorably than middle-class fathers.

Washington Times:

An analysis of 13 fathers  in 12 recent TV sitcoms and their 699 interactions with their minor children showed that working-class fathers continued to be depicted less positively than middle-class fathers, said study author Jessica Troilo, assistant professor of child development and family studies at West Virginia University.

This follows the kind of pattern seen, wherein TV working-class fathers are typified as “kind of bumbling” and “incapable,” compared to middle-class fathers, Ms. Troilo said.

Her study also showed that sitcom dads differed by network, with ABC, CW and cable shows showing the most dad-friendly behaviors, and CBS most likely to have snarky dads.

Moreover, the one gay father studied was found to be overwhelmingly child-involved and didn’t utter a single “critical and caustic” comment to a child, the study found.

In contrast, 11 of the 12 heterosexual sitcom fathers studied said hurtful things to their children, especially the fathers on “Still Standing” on CBS, CW’s “The George Lopez Show” and ABC’s “8 Simple Rules,” which starred the late John Ritter.


Previous research has shown that the “patriotic” and “heroic” images of working-class fathers — i.e., the men who rebuilt America after the Great Depression and World War II — have been replaced by images of immature buffoons and schemers who need constant rescuing from their competent wives.

Studies show that even as far back as Fred Flintstone in “The Flintstones” and Archie Bunker in “All in the Family” — and, more recently, Homer Simpson in “The Simpsons” — it is typically the mother, not father, who knows best in working-class families, said Ms. Troilo.

Hollywood has made a deliberate effort to undermine the patriarchy by savaging fatherhood.  It's one thing to promote equality in the household.  It's quite another to portray fathers as superfluous or harmful to the family. 

The study's criteria used to judge the behavior of TV fathers is reasonable:

Ms. Troilo said “positive” father stereotypes referred to being successful at work, spending quality time with their children, giving them emotional support and teaching them life lessons. “Negative” stereotypes included irresponsible, bumbling and immature behaviors and fewer interactions with a child.

There is certainly a lot more of the latter on TV than the former.  The question is, does it really make a difference?

I think sometimes we tend to overrate the impact of TV on the culture.  This may not have been true 30 years ago, when there were basically three entertainment networks and it was routine for 40 million people to tune into a single show.  Today, rating success is judged by just a few million viewers, diluting the impact of any one show. 

But that doesn't let Hollywood off the hook.  Yes, there should be realistic portrayals of families, but deliberately making fathers appear stupid or weak defeats that purpose.

If you experience technical problems, please write to