Friday, January 04, 2013

Gwen Sharp: Myths and the Media - A Case Study

Myths and the Media: A Case Study
by Gwen Sharp
Sociological Images

This morning NPR aired a segment on media stories about the “boomerang generation,” college-educated children who return to live with their parents after graduation. A widely-repeated figure is that currently 85% of recent college grads are moving back in with their parents, taken as a sign of the ongoing, and potentially long-term, consequences of the economic crisis.

Except for the part where it’s not true.

You may have heard this figure. CNN Money seems to be the first to cite it, in 2010; Time and the New York Post, among others, repeated the number:

"Survey: 85% of College Grads Move Back in with Mom and Dad"

It continued to spread, most recently ending up in a political ad from American Crossroads that attacks President Obama.

But PolitiFact recently looked into the claim and declared it false. It supposedly came from a survey conducted by a marketing and research firm from Philadelphia. Yet as they dug further into the story, PolitiFact found many things that might make you suspicious. For instance, some people listed as employees claimed never to have worked for them, while others seem to be fictional, their photos taken from stock photo archives. One employee they did find turned out to be the company president’s dad. When they found the president, David Morrison, he said the survey was conducted “many years ago” but refused to release any information about the methodology, saying he had a non-disclosure agreement with the (unnamed) client.

But as the story of this shocking trend was reproduced, it appears reporters did not try to access the original survey to fact-check it, or surely they would have discovered at least some of these discrepancies, or the lack of any available data to back up the claim.

In contrast to the 85% figure, a Pew Center report (based on a sample of 2,048) found that for young adults aged 18-34, 39% were either currently living with their parents or had temporarily moved in with them at some point because of the economic downturn

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