The Media Speaks Very Little about Large Families, Finds a Recent German Study

The Media Speaks Very Little about Large Families, Finds a Recent German Study

Courtesy of German Association of Large Families

With a stereotypical vision full of worn out clichés, portraying the family in a one-dimensional perspective which is far from reality: that is how the German press describes large families and the family in general. This was discovered by a new and exhaustive study of the argument, led by a group of researchers from Cologne, which analyzed 1,100 articles published by German newspapers between 2011 and 2012.

A team of ten researchers led by the Professor of Journalism Marlis Prinzing (Macromedia Hochschule fuer Medien und Kommunikation) has entitled the Report of their research, “The Last of Politicians’ Interests.” Their work reviewed the press’s coverage of large families as well as other types of families in Germany. The research has been committed by the German Association of Large Families ( www.kinderreichefamilien.de ). The project was financed by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women, and Children. In the study, the contents of 24 German newspapers were analyzed, among them national, regional, weekly, and daily papers, as well as news magazines specifically aimed at families. The research was combined with interviews with experts, journalists, and representatives from various associations. In Germany, according to the researchers’ conclusions, the media’s attitude, which is characterized by a stereotypical vision of family roles in the news, relegates the family, particularly large ones (with three or more children) to the very last place in their interests. These are the main results of the research:

1) The media speaks about large families only in relation to problems: too many financial burdens, conflicts from living together, and unstable accommodations. By rule, with a few exceptions in the popular press, they are represented with negative clichés, such as “families with many children are abnormal” or “only families with immigrant parents have many children.” The image that results is that large families are excessive or only proper to socially marginalized categories.

2) 41% of the examined articles offered a negative image of the traditional family, understood as a family in which the father works and the mother is at home, with one or two children (an image that, coincidentally is also far from reality).

3) While news about the family in general is mostly related to politics, those concerning large families are always presented in relation to specific and problematic cases.

4) The topic of family and of the number of children was treated in a reductive way, giving space only to opinions that were based on common places and stereotypes, which in turn were often supported by the voices of so called “experts.”

Two of the results are particularly surprising. A majority of German journalists apparently believe that large families are a phenomenon devoid of public relevance, something exclusively private, and consequently removed and evaluated only in view of their social role. In just under 60% of the examined articles in fact, the existence of many children is neither commented on positively nor negatively. Further, articles about large families are predominantly written by women, though there is an equal representation of both sexes in the newsrooms. Moreover, when the topic concerns political policy towards the family, authors are equally represented among men and women.

According to the type of print media, the following are important points revealed by the research:

- Specialized magazines reflect a middle-class, “white collar” image of the family;

- Weekly magazines tend to put the “classic family” and the so-called “extended families” on the same plane;

- Daily papers with a national circulation speak about the family, and large families in particular, in very general terms. Furthermore, only one fifth of those articles give voice to the real protagonists;

- The regional press appears more sensitive to the topic of large families: they were mentioned in 77% of the analyzed articles.

The researchers formed the following recommendations:

- To family associations, they suggest to sensitize different responsible members of the media, so that media products might include actions, topics, news, and arguments about the family.

- To journalists, avoid treating the topic of the family through the lenses of their own ideas about life, which could perhaps falsify reality. They also suggest fairly reporting ideas that are different from their own theses.

- To communications researchers, conduct further research on the family and the media.