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ZEW Discussion Papers

Exposure to Television and Individual Beliefs: Evidence from a Natural Experiment

Hennighausen, Tanja (2012), Exposure to Television and Individual Beliefs: Evidence from a Natural Experiment, ZEW Discussion Paper No. 12-078, Mannheim. Download

Individual beliefs on the drivers of success have been proven relevant for both redistributive preferences and actual policy outcomes (e.g. related to the size and structure of the welfare state). Hence, a better understanding of individual belief formation is desirable. Several theoretical and empirical studies have already focused on explanations for interpersonal heterogeneity in beliefs (e.g. personal experience) but still our knowledge remains incomplete. Thus, this paper provides additional insights by focusing on the role of information provided by television as a way individuals can learn about the relationship between e ffort and success in life.

To analyze empirically whether television aff ects beliefs, I concentrate on the case of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). This o ffers at least two advantages: First, state-controlled mass media were used to promote the ideologies and world views of both German states. The predominant ideologies di ffered considerably between Communist and Capitalist states and comprised assumptions about the determinants of success in life and social mobility. Second, the focus on East Germany o ffers the opportunity to exploit a natural experiment on the regional availability of West German television broadcasts. While the majority of GDR citizens was able to watch Western television, approximately 15 percent of the population living in the Southeast and the Northeast could not receive these broadcasts due to geographical reasons. Consequently, the decision to watch Western television has been partly exogenous for each GDR citizen (given his or her place of residence).

The empirical analysis is based on two di fferent data sets. I employ survey data collected in the GDR during the late 1980s to test whether the differential access to television is reflected in East Germans' beliefs before reuni cation. Moreover, longitudinal data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (GSOEP) is used to analyze the persistence of the Western television e ect during the 1990s. Overall, the fi ndings indicate that exposure to Western television broadcasts has made East Germans more inclined to believe that eff ort rather than luck determines success in life. Furthermore, this effect seems to persist up to ten years after reuni cation. Television and the information provided therein, thus, was one aspect of di fferent socialization in East and West Germany.


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