Perceptions and Misperceptions of America’s Children

The Role of the Print Media

Posted June 11, 2003
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
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This paper is closely linked to a report identifying several misperceptions that Americans have about children and youth.

Topics Under Review

In the report, researchers explored survey topics on several important social policy issues rooted in indisputable statistical data. These issues were related to: 1) welfare reform; 2) immigrants; 3) single parents and single mothers; 4) teenage births; and 5) out-of-wedlock births.

For this publication, researchers scanned content from five large newspapers — Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Atlanta Journal and Constitution, and the Chicago Tribune — to see if the misperceptions held by Americans are linked to the way the press portrays key issues on child well-being.

This review identified 494 pertinent articles published between September 2001 to September 2002. As points of comparison: The five outlets collectively published 5,258 articles on unemployment and 6,732 articles on the stock market during this same time period.

What the Surveys Say

Survey results indicated that:

  • Just 19% of respondents knew that the number of children on welfare had declined since 1996 (this statistic dropped 50% between 1996 and 2000).
  • Only 19% of adults knew that the share of children living in single-parent families had remained fairly stable in recent years (and may, in fact, be shrinking).
  • Some 22% of adults knew that the teen birth rate had fallen in the last five years (it dropped 16% between 1996 and 2001).
  • Only 38% of adults knew that unmarried women account for about one-third of all births.
  • One in three adults knew the prevalence of immigrants and children of immigrants in America’s child population (20% of all kids nationwide).

About the Series

This publication is part of the KIDS COUNT Working Paper series, which elevates discussions about data gaps, results and trends related to the KIDS COUNT database.

Findings & Stats

Statements & Quotations

Key Takeaway

Digestible, accurate and timely data on child well-being can be a powerful storytelling tool

Much of the increased interest in statistics on child well-being can be traced back to 1990 when the Annie E. Casey Foundation first began publishing its annual KIDS COUNT® Data Book. This publication was the first of its kind — making statistical data on children easily available to large numbers of people. It was widely disseminated, highly valued and quickly became a model for other organizations. The product’s appeal is clear: Media carried information from the 2002 report to more than 70 million readers, listeners, and viewers, according to a recent analysis.