The Television Generation's Relation to the Mass Media in Germany: Accounting for the Impact of Private Television
Peiser, Wolfram, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media
Since the early days of television there have been speculations about negative effects of growing up with television. While some authors only say or imply that the television generation (those who have grown up with television) differs in some way (e.g., Lehtonen, 1988; J. M. McLeod & O'Keefe, 1972), most authors are more specific about the kinds of effects of growing up with television as well as about the direction of such effects. As far as media use is concerned, the television generation is supposed to have a stronger affection to television (e.g., Cobb-Walgren, 1990; Comstock, Chaffee, Katzman, McCombs, & Roberts, 1978) and to be less inclined to read (e.g., Beentjes & van der Voort, 1989; Brody, 1990; Robinson & Jeffres, 1981). Other authors discuss possible effects of growing up with television on attitudes, values, personality, perception, and language (e.g., Bower, 1973; Greenfield & Beagles-Roos, 1988; Lazarsfeld, 1963; McLuhan, 1964; McLuhan & Fiore, 1967; Meyrowitz, 1985; Winn, 1977). In many of these cases the supposed consequences of being socialized in the television age serve to characterize the so-called television generation.
Extending an earlier study (Peiser, 1996), it is the purpose of this research to provide a more conclusive answer to the question whether the television generation really differs markedly from those who have not grown up with television. For several reasons both Peiser's (1996) study and this study are restricted to differences in media use. First, some choice had to be made, because there are simply too many characteristics attributed to the television generation to study all of them. Second, the choice was limited, because in many cases the kind of secondary data needed was not available, media use being one of the few exceptions. And, finally, there is a theoretical argument: It can be assumed that strong effects of growing up with television will be more easily visible in people's media-related behavior than in other domains. Because much of the discussion about the television generation's relation to the mass media has dealt with television viewing itself and with newspaper reading, the present study concentrates on these two daily media. Are people who have grown up with television more devoted to TV and less interested in the newspaper than those born earlier? Is there empirical support for the speculations mentioned above? This question will be addressed in this article.
Defining the Television Generation
Television generation is a key concept in the discussion of the effects of growing up with television. In the social sciences there is some confusion about the meaning of the term generation (see Kertzer, 1983). Often the term is used in reference to age groups (e.g., the young generation). To the present study, however, another major meaning of generation is relevant: generation as a birth cohort or a group of successive birth cohorts. Cohort refers to the membership in a group defined by a number of adjacent years of birth. A cohort, originally a name for a Roman military unit, in this sense is a group of persons (usually within the same country) born about the same time who grow up and age together, who are exposed to similar environments at the same age and share common experiences (Glenn, 1977; Maddox & Campbell, 1985; Ryder, 1965).
If one of these common experiences is a major historical event, those who experienced this event during their childhood, or youth and adolescence, are often grouped together and defined as a generation. An example would be the so-called Vietnam generation. What is the idea behind such a grouping? There is strong evidence that experiences made during early socialization or during adolescence (the "formative years"; Inglehart, 1977) leave long-lasting impressions on values and attitudes, and continue to influence behavior later in life. This view is supported by the notion that as an adult ages, conservatism tends to increase and, thus, values, attitudes, and behavior are less and less likely to change (Glenn, 1980). In this way, nearly all aspects of human behavior (in the broadest sense) may in principle be influenced by cohort membership--or, more precisely, by one or more factors associated with cohort membership. If such an influence of cohort membership exists, it is called a cohort effect. Essentially, a cohort effect refers to stable differences between cohorts (also termed intercohort differences or cohort trends).
Following this discussion of the terms cohort and generation, the television generation may be defined rather loosely as the group of those birth cohorts who have grown up (completely or at least in part) with television. It is important to note that this definition implies a delimitation on the time scale only to one side. A more operational definition in terms of the exact years of birth belonging to the television generation would seem desirable. Such a definition has to be country-specific, however, because of differences between countries in the diffusion of television. In the case of the United States there is considerable agreement in the literature that those born about 1950 or later belong to the television generation (Bogart, 1989; Davis & Davis, 1985; Stone, 1987; Winn, 1977).
In Germany, where this research was conducted, television spread later and more slowly than in the United States. Accordingly, the delimitation of the television generation is more difficult here, because there is actually a gradual transition between the pre-television generation (those cohorts who experienced television for the first time when all of their members were already adults) and the television generation in the strictest sense of the term (those cohorts who were completely exposed to television from birth on). In Germany, the period of transition is relatively long, probably about 1940-1975. Nevertheless, it seems important to arrive at a more precise demarcation. For the purpose of this study, therefore, the television generation is defined as those people who were born after 1965. At that time, more than 55 percent of the German adult population had a television set in their homes. By 1970, this figure had risen to 85 percent (Kiefer, 1987). Thus, even the majority of those born in 1965 were exposed to television from birth on, and nearly all members of this birth cohort had contact with television before they were in school age.
Potential Long-Term Effects of Television Involved
What would it mean if this television generation really had a stronger television viewing habit and a stronger affection for TV, and if it showed less interest in reading the newspaper? If younger cohorts are more heavy viewers, there will be a gradual increase in television viewing in society as these cohorts are successively replacing older, less heavier viewing cohorts. This may be viewed as a reinforcing long-term effect of television contributing to the diffusion of television viewing in society (over and above the initial diffusion of the TV set). Generally speaking, once there are stable differences between birth cohorts, social change inevitably results in the long run due to the process of cohort succession (Riley, 1973; Ryder, 1965). As to the newspaper, a long-term decline in newspaper reading in society would have to be expected if younger cohorts were indeed less eager readers than older cohorts.
There are some important reasons why such long-term shifts in television viewing and newspaper reading deserve attention. First, television and the newspaper differ in their efficiency as sources of political knowledge. A number of studies have stressed the importance of newspapers for in-depth knowledge about politics and public affairs (see Viswanath & Finnegan, 1996, for a summary). For example, Kleinnijenhuis (1991) found that newspapers seem to be a more effective means for acquiring political knowledge than television, at least as far as verbal knowledge is concerned. Similarly, D. M. McLeod and Perse (1994) found that newspaper news use had a positive influence on public affairs knowledge, whereas the influence of television was even negative. Thus, in the long run public affairs knowledge in society may decrease because of an overall decline in newspaper reading.
Besides, a decline in newspaper reading caused by younger cohorts reading less than older cohorts is also important from an industry perspective (see Meyer, 1985). In particular, publishers may benefit from knowing whether young cohorts are at the same time more oriented toward television, indicating potential strategies to make the newspaper more attractive to them. Thus, the question whether the television generation differs from earlier cohorts with respect to television and newspaper use seems to be important from quite different points of view.
In the following section, past research related to such differences between cohorts will be reviewed. Because we are concerned with long-term intercohort differences, only cohort-analytic studies of media use working with longitudinal data are considered relevant here (for other lines of research on television and its potential effects on reading, see Beentjes & van der Voort, 1989; Mutz, Roberts, & van Vuuren, 1993; Neuman, 1995).
Previous Cohort Analyses of Media Use
Over 25 years ago, J. M. McLeod and O'Keefe …
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Publication information: Article title: The Television Generation's Relation to the Mass Media in Germany: Accounting for the Impact of Private Television. Contributors: Peiser, Wolfram - Author. Journal title: Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. Volume: 43. Issue: 3 Publication date: Summer 1999. Page number: 364. © 2009 Broadcast Education Association. COPYRIGHT 1999 Gale Group.
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