Hollywood actors

The unexplained 25% salary gap between male and female actors in Hollywood

For actors in their 50s and older, the income differential more than doubles in dollar volume, writes Sophie Izquierdo Sanchez.

In 2015, Patricia Arquette won the Oscar for best supporting actress, her speech was a call for equal pay between female and male stars in Hollywood. Her words at the gala ceremony were applauded and later supported by widely recognized actresses in the industry such as Meryl Streep, Charlize Theron, Jennifer Lawrence or Natalie Portman. But do male actors really earn higher salaries than their female co-stars? Our research reveals an unexplained gender gap of approximately 25% per film, and while these gaps appear to narrow moderately with higher incomes, they persist even after 10 years of experience.

The Hollywood industry provides an interesting and important scenario for studying gender wage differences for several reasons (1) Hollywood is the largest film center in the world and represents a huge economic and cultural export; (2) contracts are short-term, negotiated actor-by-actor and film-by-film, allowing stars to be paid based on their current individual performance, productivity, and contribution to a specific film; (3) stars of different genres frequently appear in the same films where they do essentially the same work, at the same time and in the same place.

To analyze the gender pay gap among Hollywood stars, we put together an original dataset of 1,344 films from 1980 to 2015 and 267 Hollywood stars, 38% of whom are actresses. The data was obtained from various sources: IMDb, Box Office Mojo and elsewhere. This star-by-film data is then combined with a set of earnings determinants, including the actor’s background, the financial success of a star’s previous films, customer preference, and different quantitative and qualitative characteristics of the film.

A preliminary graphical analysis shows us that in the long term the salaries of female and male actors have increased drastically from 1980 to 2015, however the salary gap persists and it is practically the same in 1980 as in 2015 (Figure 1). Unadjusted results show that female stars earn $2.2 million (56%) less per movie. When we adopt a standard specification where the salaries per actor and per film depend on the background characteristics of the actor and the current specifications of the film, about half of the discrepancy can be explained by our controls, however, we still find a unexplained gender gap of about $1.1 million (about 25 percent) per film. Several robustness checks show that the pay gap remains unchanged and significant, and can only be partially explained. This 25% gender pay gap is consistent with estimates reported by previous studies of gender pay gaps in other labor markets, particularly among highly paid professionals, for example software markets (Heywood et al. Nezleck 1993, 2018), doctors (Bashaw and Heywood, 2001; Reyes, 2007), business leaders (Bertrand and Hallock, 2001), lawyers (Wood et al., 1993) or tennis players (Kahn , 1991).

Figure 1 – Average real earnings of male and female stars per film, 1980-2015

Following our previous results, we look for factors that may determine explained and unexplained wage differences between female and male actors – unexplained differences are attributed to discrimination. The results show that the explained gap associated with discrimination is driven by gender differences in returning to action and adventure genres, and sequels. We then look at the pattern of gender gaps in income distribution and find that the percentage difference in income by gender does not increase. In fact, we can say that it is slightly lower in percentage terms at the top of the distribution.

Finally, we use dynamic analysis to determine the pattern of the gender wage gap. We first include the stars’ years of experience in our analysis, then different age brackets. In terms of experience, we observe that the pay gap decreases at a steady rate with years of experience since first film appearance, but after ten years of experience the gap still persists. When analyzing the trend of the gender pay gap by age, we find that from under 18 to middle age, the gender gap does not change dramatically and remains constant at around $1.5 million, but from age 50 onwards, however, it more than doubles in dollar volume and thus the differential is greater among older actors.

Our research aims to provide evidence on the gender pay gap in Hollywood and highlights the importance of closing this gender pay gap. Thus, the suggestion that contracts should systematically be the subject of public information could be judicious. Its success would be based on the assumption that providing social information about the earnings of other co-stars could reduce the bargaining gap or influence the habits of the viewing public and that these would influence the residual earnings gap. Yet we have only provided the first step in a thorough empirical investigation of this pay gap.

  • This blog post originally appeared on LSE Business Review and is based on the author’s research with John S. Heywood and Maria Navarro Paniagua, presented in August 2019 at the European Economic Association Annual Meeting in Manchester, England.
  • Note: This article gives the author’s point of view, not the USAPP’s position. American Politics and Policy, nor the London School of Economics.
  • Highlighted picture through Dick Thomas Johnsonunder a CC-BY-2.0 Licence
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To note: The post office gives the point of view of its authors, not the position USAPP– American Politics and Policy, nor from the London School of Economics.

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About the Author

Sofia Izquierdo Sanchez – University of Huddersfield
Sofia Izquierdo Sanchez is a Lecturer in Economics in the Department of Accountancy, Finance and Economics at the University of Huddersfield and Co-Director of the Northern Productivity Hub at Huddersfield Business School. She was previously a part-time lecturer at the University of East Anglia and a part-time senior research associate at the Center for Competition Policy. She holds a PhD from Lancaster University. His thesis focused on the importance of advertising expenditure affecting word-of-mouth to increase revenue, and the competition between the media and the creative industries.