term "demographics" is a colloquialism that derives from demography,
"the study of the characteristics of human populations." Professional
demographers, such as those who work at the United States Census
Bureau, are concerned primarily with population size and density,
birth and death rates, and in- and out-migration. But the practice
of describing human groups according to distributions of sex, age,
ethnicity, educational level, income, or other such has become a
commonplace in many domains. These categories are called demographics.
the television industry demographics are used in various ways, most
of which can be characterized as either descriptive or analytical.
First, demographics can be used to describe an audience. Such descriptive
uses may be applied to an actual audience, as, for example: 54%
female, 62% white, average age 44. Or demographics may be used to
describe a desired audience, as in "younger," or "higher income."
Second, demographics can be used to sort data about people for purposes
of analysis. For example, data may be available from a study designed
to assess people's evaluations of an evening newscast anchor. Researchers
may be interested in the average evaluation across people, in the
evaluations of specific subgroups of people, or in the differences
between the evaluations of specific subgroups. For either of the
latter two purposes one would divide the data according to the demographic
categories of interest and calculate averages within those categories.
It would then be possible to report the evaluations of women as
distinct from those for men, those for higher and lower education
groups, and so on.
interest in demographics arises from market research or advertising
strategies that emphasize certain types of people as the target
audience for their advertising. Commercial broadcasters, then, who
earn their living by providing communication services to advertisers,
are interested in demographics because the advertisers are. Because
advertisers are more interested in some demographic categories than
others, the commercial broadcasters have a financial interest in
designing programming that appeals to people in those more desired
of the specific advertising connection, demographic categories are
also be used whenever generalizations are more important than precision.
Individuals are sometimes interested in saying something more generally
than precisely true. But for national television programmers, who
must think in terms of audiences of several million people at a
time, there is no other option. So their work is characterized by
reliance on such generalizations as women like romance, men like
action, young people won't watch unless we titillate them.
of demographics to define and generalize about people is an instance
of social category thinking. The rationale is that the available
social categories, such as age, gender, ethnicity, and educational
level, are associated with typical structures of opportunity and
experience that in turn produce typical patterns of disposition,
attitudes, interests, behaviors, and so on. The application of social
category thinking often extends beyond that sensible rationale to
include any instance where differences in a variable of interest
can be associated with conveniently measured demographic differences.
Age, for example, is easy to measure, amenable to being categorized,
and associated with a great variety of differences in taste and
activity. No one, of course, supposes that aging causes people to
watch more television; but older adults do watch more than younger
adults. The convenience of that knowledge outweighs the need for
precision in the television industry.
Becker, Lee B. "Racial Differences in Evaluation of the Mass Media."
Journalism Quarterly (Urbana, Illinois), Spring, 1992.
Bruce. "A Case for Different Strokes; Black's TV Choices Differ
From General Public, Ad Study Shows." Los Angeles Times (Los
Angeles, California), April 7, 1992.
D.C. "Seeing Beyond Demographics." Marketing and Media Decisions
(New York), July 1983.
Mann, Judy. "Television Makes a Discovery (Orient Programs Toward
Women)." The Washington Post (Washington, D.C.), November
Robert. "Videophiles and Other Americans." American Demographics
(Ithaca, New York), July, 1992.
Merriam, John E. "Clues in the Media." American Demographics
(Ithaca, New York), February, 1991.
Sharon D. "Study Shows Network's Demographic Strengths," Broadcasting
(Washington, D.C.), November 30, 1992.
Morry. "See Zip Codes A New Key to Demographics." Variety (Los
Angeles, California), May 28, 1990.
"TV and Cable Programming (U.S. Demographics)." Television Digest
(Washington, D.C.), June 21, 1993.