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.