The Television Generation's Relation to the Mass Media in Germany: Accounting for the Impact of Private Television

By Peiser, Wolfram | Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

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).

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