A content analysis of women in pharmaceutical advertisements
Physicians' perceptions of their female patients impact the delivery of health care. An indirect measure of the most popular current and historical view of women is the manner in which they are portrayed in pharmaceutical advertisements. Drug companies have an interest in depicting women in ways that coincide with the consumer-physician's view. In the past, researchers have critized the stereotypical negative portrayal of women in the patient role. The purpose of this retrospective descriptive study was to determine if changes in the portrayal of women in pharmaceutical advertisements have taken place over the last two decades. Five hundred and twenty three pharmaceutical advertisements were searched for the presence of an adult female patient depicted in a manner such that the setting, the physical activity, the physical appearance, the psychological appearance, the age range, the race, and the type of drug could all be determined and coded.
This study also examined the number of advertisements depicting women as appropriate recipients of medication. A content analysis of 143 advertisements featuring 157 women patients meeting the coding criteria was performed on a stratified random sample of three medical journals representing the target years of 1965, 1972, 1979, and 1985. A chi-square test for significance was used with crosstabulation tables to record the frequency of each variable. The results showed significant changes in the area of frequency of females used in advertisements. There were no significant changes in setting, physical activity, physical appearance, age range, race, or type of drug prescribed. There were significant shifts in the direction of portraying women as more unhappy. The conclusion was drawn that although women were depicted less frequently in pharmaceutical advertisements, they were still negatively stereotyped. It was also concluded that women's roles may have continued to change and expand at a faster rate than the advertisers' or physicians' responses during the 20-year period.