Persistence and Change in Age-Specific Gender Gaps: Hollywood Actors from the Silent Era Onward
40 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2020
Date Written: October 29, 2012
The relationship between gender, age, and employment (and the potential for changing it) has interested scholars – and inspired activists – since at least the advent of the women’s rights movement. In this paper, we examine the gender and age mix for an unusually visible profession: acting in motion pictures. Analysis of almost a century of data produces some striking results. For example, the average ages of both male and female actors have increased by about eight years over the last 90 years. Yet for the most part, the dominant pattern is one of stability. Of the nearly half-million different roles played in more than 50,000 feature films between 1920 and 2011, two-thirds have gone to males, and the gender gap is now slightly larger than it was in the industry’s early years. Furthermore, the average male actor has consistently remained about eight years older than the average female actor. Finally, despite the much larger number of male roles in total, the direction of the gender gap depends on age – there are more leading roles for young women than for young men. The fact that these patterns have held steady through major changes in the film industry – and in society as a whole – suggests a corresponding stability in consumer preferences that has implications for understanding gender-specific labor market returns to youth and appearance.
Keywords: motion pictures, actors, age, gender, demography, discrimination, labor market
JEL Classification: J1, J4, J7, L1, L2, L82, N3
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation