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Keywords:

  • family;
  • media;
  • natural experiments

The randomized trial is the gold standard in scientific research and is used by several fields to study the effects of media. Although useful for studying the immediate response to media exposure, the experimental approach is not well suited to studying long-term effects or behavior outside the laboratory. The “natural experiment” approach, a quasi-experimental method commonly used by economists, exploits settings in which there is naturally occurring variation that “randomly” influences the amount and type of media that individuals are exposed to. We discuss the methodological issues of natural experiments and the ways in which findings based on this approach can complement the findings from laboratory or other experimental settings. The examples we discuss highlight the value of interdisciplinary work in better understanding media's impact on family issues such as fertility, divorce, domestic violence, and child well-being.