Seniors characters are dramatically underrepresented on popular television, according to a new study from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Looking at a sampling of 72 shows — a mix of the most popular series according to Nielsen ratings in the 18-49 demo and with viewers 65 and older — the study, titled “Seniors on the Small Screen: Aging in Popular Television,” found that people ages 60 and older made up only 9.4% of speaking roles, despite making up 19.9% of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. census. Of the 72 shows surveyed, one episode per series, only three came within two percentage points of 19.9%.
Seniors accounted for only 8.2% of series-regular roles on the shows surveyed.
Among senior roles, diversity was scarce. Only 30% of all roles for characters ages 60 and older were female. Thirty-eight of the 72 programs surveyed had no female senior role.
Senior roles also skewed heavily white, with white characters accounting for 72.2% of all such characters, compared to 14.6% black/African American, 6.6% Hispanic/Latino, 1.3% Asian, and 5.3% from mixed race/other groups. None of the 72 shows featured a single female Asian senior speaking role.
Behind the camera, seniors fared slightly better in some areas, far worse in others. People 60 and older accounted for 25.3% of directors on series surveyed. But only two of the 19 senior directors counted were women.
Writers rooms were especially short on senior representation. Of 121 credited writers across 72 episodes, only 5% were age 60 or older.
Of the 100 showrunners identified, 11 were ages 60 or older — 10 men and one woman.
The study was authored by Stacy L. Smith, Katherine Piper, Marc Choueiti, Artur Tofan, Anne-Marie Depauw, and Ariana Case.