The Ratings Game: Asymmetry in Classification

40 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2020

See all articles by David Waguespack

David Waguespack

University of Maryland

Olav Sorenson

Yale School of Management; University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Policy Area

Date Written: February 23, 2010


Categorization processes are generally treated as consistent mappings of the underlying characteristics that they group. Yet, in many cases, the identities of actors influence these processes. When identity matters, high status actors often obtain more favorable classifications. We examine these processes in the context of the Motion Picture Association of America’s parental guidance classifications of movies (G, PG, R, NC-17).

We find that, conditional on a given level of content, films distributed by MPAA members, and those that involve more central producers and directors, receive more lenient classifications than those carried by independent distributors and involving more peripheral personnel. Conversely, and again conditional on content, films involving directors with a history of producing R rated features receive more restrictive ratings. We discuss the mechanisms that might account for these effects. Regardless of the mechanism, however, since ratings influence revenue and consequently profitability, the movie certification system in the United States places independent distributors and peripheral individuals at a disadvantage relative to their larger and more central rivals.

Keywords: classification, ratings, film industry

JEL Classification: A14

Suggested Citation

Waguespack, David and Sorenson, Olav, The Ratings Game: Asymmetry in Classification (February 23, 2010). Available at SSRN: or

David Waguespack (Contact Author)

University of Maryland ( email )

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Olav Sorenson

Yale School of Management ( email )

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University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Policy Area ( email )

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