Study: Female Stars Paid Significantly Less After Age 34

Meryl Streep The Giver
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Report finds women earn more than men in 20s, but ratio reverses after they hit their mid-30s

Like most industries, the movie biz has long been plagued by age and gender biases. But a recent study suggests that when coupled, age and gender discrimination can yield an even more significant wage gap.

According to a study in the Journal of Management Inquiry, actresses in their 20s earn more than their male counterparts, while older actors make more than their female equals.

Female movie stars make the most money on average per film at age 34, while male stars earn the most at 51. And while women’s salaries see a dramatic plunge over time, the dropoff after an earnings peak is much less for men.

One of the study’s authors, Timothy Judge, a management professor at the University of Notre Dame, said there is an appearance premium and penalty applied disproportionately to women.

“While the difference is fairly small, it’s indicative of the other side of the double standard,” Judge told Variety in an email. “Women are evaluated more on their beauty than are men, and if beauty is defined in part by youth, then this rather explains why — in appearance-based occupations — young women are more valued than young men.”

Judge and co-researchers Irene De Pater and Brent Scott examined earnings records for 265 actors and actresses between 1968 and 2008. They found that the wage gap could partly be attributed to the fact that there are fewer older actresses than actors in the field as there are fewer film roles available for women over 45. The average age of female winners at this year’s Golden Globes was 42, while the average age of male victors was 52.

According to Forbes’ annual earnings list, Hollywood’s 10 highest-paid actresses (with Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lawrence and Kristen Stewart at the top) earned $181 million collectively from June 2012 to June 2013 — the lowest total in five years, down almost 30% since 2010’s record high.

Meanwhile, the highest-paid actors (Robert Downey Jr., Channing Tatum and Hugh Jackman) banked a collective $465 million — the most in five years, up more than 15% since 2009.

“Hollywood is, in a sense, a window to society,” Judge said. “The trends we see in Hollywood are only more dramatic trends that we see more generally in the population.”

Meryl Streep, one of the most outspoken female advocates in Hollywood, recently slammed Walt Disney for being a “gender bigot” at an awards gala before reading a letter sent to a female animator in 1938 that included the line: “Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that task is performed entirely by young men.”

And at an awards show in 2012, she blasted the industry for not making more movies about women. “Why? Why? Why? Don’t they want the money?” she asked rhetorically.

Streep, 64, reportedly commands $7 million-$8 million per movie.

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  1. Just Confused says:

    How many young people, men and women, come to HOLLYWOOD, and grow old watching their dreams and themselves dying NEVER ACHIEVING the kind of money and success these BLESSED AMONG US bemoan as inadequate. This whole “study” was stupid and artificial, by and for people who are the same.

    or am I just confused?

  2. Mjkbk says:

    This study conclusion comes as a complete surprise!

    Oh wait. Not really. I’ve recognized this truth since the late 50s, when I was only TEN–and surely I’m not the only non-industry, non-academic person to notice it, after all these years.

    How old are these researchers, and where have they been all this time?

  3. apollyon911 says:

    Older women are less desirable. The public is less interested in them. What’s the problem?

  4. Ronald B Hippler says:

    True Story ln the late 90s I signed release forms with Jack Lemmon’s production company, in the script, he was to play the role of the grandfather of a very powerful woman, she is a world-class architect married to a famous lawyer, (skip forward) while on vacation to Yellowstone Park, a train comes out of a mountain tunnel and enters a heavy fog,… when she awakens in a hospital, she will soon learn from her grandfather, that her husband and three children were killed in the train/car collision, and she and her dog were thrown into a snow drift and survived. You will learn at the time of the collision, she was unbuckled and trying to buckle one of the seatbelts attached to her son in the backseat, and had just finished when the train struck. FF She moves in with her grandpa for about a year, it is a special relationship; he taught her how to fly at his flying school when she was a teenager, and she would become an instructor/pilot and it paid her way through college. After about a year, she falls in love with a mysterious vet who is treating her dog, he is half Apache and half Irish, lives in the wilderness and has a secret that causes a surprise ending.

    I wrote @95% of this screenplay Beyond The Horizon in three days. It was like poetry, it wrote itself, and it was loosely based on a true incident I learned about in a post op room, the person next to me awoke to learn his wife and five kids had been killed in a train/car collision, and he was the sole survivor. I decided to make the movie about a woman because I thought a woman could bring more intensity to the role, particularly since most women communicate probably 95% more with their children than most husbands do, and the idea that a Meryl Streep might consider this role clearly overwhelmed any thoughts of my thinking about a male lead.

    Back then, almost nobody would look at your screenplay unless it was submitted by a bonded agent. I recently learned this practice is disappearing because of the success of indie scripts and from the influence of UTube. We best resubmit our powerful female scripts, the Internet Age has arrived and it is posed to level this playing field!

  5. burke says:

    “Channing Tatum (put up his own money) to produce “Magic Mike” which grossed a couple hundred million worldwide.” And that’s not that uncommon a thing to do.

    Yet Meryl Streep just yells at other people about the money to be made instead of doing something many actors do. If success is such a foregone conclusion, put the money up to make it and reap the benefits. More risk and more work than bleating all the time, I guess.

  6. Ronald B Hippler says:

    The better question might be: how many men or women are writing and submitting screenplays where a woman is the main star? And since top money grossing films are usually sci-fi. fantasy or animated films, and normally ( except in animated films,) use a male action hero to drive the film, the big bucks for performances will usually go to the main male actors. I would guess for every female action film, there are over 100 male action hero films being made.

  7. Hunter says:

    This article cited here is a pretty poor bit of research.

  8. Dashing says:

    If anything Hollywood is probably the least discriminating when it comes to paying salaries compared to other industries. What actress is in the league with Robert Downey Jr. ‘s “Iron Man” earning almost 1 Billion dollars worldwide (per release)? Channing Tatum (put up his own money) to produce “Magic Mike” which grossed a couple hundred million worldwide. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is an established box office global franchise hit! Comparing the box office performance of those movies with what Angelia Jolie has done is not a fair comparison. She has not had a “blockbuster” movie in years! (“Salt” in 2010) She may be back in the game with her upcoming movie “Maleficent”

    Jennifer Lawrence is probably underpaid for the money that “The Hunger Games” franchise is bringing in but that it is mainly because when she signed her contract for multiple sequels she was not a proven box office star. And yet the studio is paying her more. The first picture she got $1 million and the second one she got $10 million. Most likely she will be paid more for the two remaining pictures and given some points based upon their performance.

    Outside of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy there have not been many actresses lately who can guarantee high box office numbers. Meryl Streep is a huge talent but she’s not a huge box office attraction! Kevin Hart will out earn her due to his hit movie “Ride Along” which is poised to cross the $100 million mark within (4 weeks) of release.

    No one is going to pay Meryl Streep $20-$25 million to make movies that barely make $35 million. She won the Oscar for “The Iron Lady’. The movie grossed $29 million in the U.S. However it made another $86 million worldwide. The movie’s production cost was $14 million. Hopefully she got some backend points. Nevertheless $115 million (worldwide) box office is nowhere close to generating the kind of cash “Iron Man” does. When a woman is the lead character of a franchise movie that earns those kinds of numbers she will be paid more than most male actors! (Unless Hollywood signs her when she’s young.) The payment question comes down to “Are people coming to see the actor in the role or are they coming to see the movie regardless of who plays the role?” For example Zoe Saldana is the female lead character of Jim Cameron’s “Avatar” movies. Does anyone believe people are buying tickets to see her? or to see what Jim Cameron’s come up with? Not many people would miss her if she wasn’t in it.

    One final example: Look at the careers of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet who were close in status at the time they made “Titanic” However since that movie she has yet to have another movie become a blockbuster. Does anyone believe she should be paid the same dollars as Leo based on their track records since then? “Inception”, “Shutter Island”, “The Great Gatsby”, Aviator”, “The Departed” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” have all mad hundreds of millions of dollars. Kate Winslet however does have an Oscar.

  9. Chris Lucas says:

    Hollywood IS the ageist and sexist capital of the world!

  10. stephanie says:

    Think bigger. That’s the point.

  11. me_myself_and_I says:

    This is something that the entertainment industry has created for themselves. They push the pretty girls constantly and then wonder why we don’t want to watch an old hag of an actress. Most of the parts are type-cast anyway, so where is the “talent”?

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