Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Will Hollywood fix its pay bias against women?

By Timothy A. Judge
February 28, 2014 -- Updated 1835 GMT (0235 HKT)
Matthew McConaughey accepts the best actor Oscar on Sunday, March 2, for his role in the film "Dallas Buyers Club." Find out which legends took home Oscars before McConaughey -- from German actor Emil Jannings in 1929 to three-time winner Daniel Day-Lewis in 2013: Matthew McConaughey accepts the best actor Oscar on Sunday, March 2, for his role in the film "Dallas Buyers Club." Find out which legends took home Oscars before McConaughey -- from German actor Emil Jannings in 1929 to three-time winner Daniel Day-Lewis in 2013:
A history of Oscar-winning best actors
Emil Jannings (1929)
Warner Baxter (1930)
George Arliss (1930)
Lionel Barrymore (1931)
Wallace Beery (1932)
Fredric March (1932)
Charles Laughton (1934)
Clark Gable (1935)
Victor McLaglen (1936)
Paul Muni (1937)
Spencer Tracy (1938)
Spencer Tracy (1939)
Robert Donat (1940)
James Stewart (1941)
Gary Cooper (1942)
James Cagney (1943)
Paul Lukas (1944)
Bing Crosby (1945)
Ray Milland (1946)
Fredric March (1947)
Ronald Colman (1948)
Laurence Olivier (1949)
Broderick Crawford (1950)
José Ferrer (1951)
Humphrey Bogart (1952)
Gary Cooper (1953)
William Holden (1954)
Marlon Brando (1955)
Ernest Borgnine (1956)
Yul Brynner (1957)
Alec Guinness (1958)
David Niven (1959)
Charlton Heston (1960)
Burt Lancaster (1961)
Maximilian Schell (1962)
Gregory Peck (1963)
Sidney Poitier (1964)
Rex Harrison (1965)
Lee Marvin (1966)
Paul Scofield (1967)
Rod Steiger (1968)
Cliff Robertson (1969)
John Wayne (1970)
George C. Scott (1971)
Gene Hackman (1972)
Marlon Brando (1973)
Jack Lemmon (1974)
Art Carney (1975)
Jack Nicholson (1976)
Peter Finch (1977)
Richard Dreyfuss (1978)
Jon Voight (1979)
Dustin Hoffman (1980)
Robert De Niro (1981)
Henry Fonda (1982)
Ben Kingsley (1983)
Robert Duvall (1984)
F. Murray Abraham (1985)
William Hurt (1986)
Paul Newman (1987)
Michael Douglas (1988)
Dustin Hoffman (1989)
Daniel Day-Lewis (1990)
Jeremy Irons (1991)
Anthony Hopkins (1992)
Al Pacino (1993)
Tom Hanks (1994)
Tom Hanks (1995)
Nicolas Cage (1996)
Geoffrey Rush (1997)
Jack Nicholson (1998)
Roberto Benigni (1999)
Kevin Spacey (2000)
Russell Crowe (2001)
Denzel Washington (2002)
Adrien Brody (2003)
Sean Penn (2004)
Jamie Foxx (2005)
Philip Seymour Hoffman (2006)
Forest Whitaker (2007)
Daniel Day-Lewis (2008)
Sean Penn (2009)
Jeff Bridges (2010)
Colin Firth (2011)
Jean Dujardin (2012)
Daniel Day-Lewis (2013)
  • Timothy Judge: Hollywood actors and actresses make about the same until they age
  • Judge: Actresses' pay peaks at about age 34 whereas actors pay peaks around 51
  • He says we can blame Hollywood, but it's also that our society is obsessed with beauty
  • Judge: Both genders are biased against less attractive women and older people

Editor's note: Timothy A. Judge is a professor in the Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame. His research focuses on career success, among other topics.

(CNN) -- Who would you say is more successful: Academy Award nominee Leonardo DiCaprio, or Academy Award nominee Meryl Streep?

In terms of numbers of memorable -- even legendary -- screen roles, it might be difficult to say. And in terms of lasting power, they both have grown in reputation over the years. But in terms of most recent earning for the year 2012-2013, the winner is clear: Leonardo Di Caprio, age 39, earned $39 million in pay while Meryl Streep, age 64, earned only $7 million. (One caveat: Their earnings are also influenced by the box office success of their films.)

Sure, that's just one year and those are just two stars. But if we look across the board, we can't help but come to the same conclusion: There's an unfair pay disparity in Hollywood.

Timothy A. Judge
Timothy A. Judge

As we look forward to this year's Academy Awards show on Sunday night, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on the movie industry and what it tells us about ourselves.

Research that my colleagues Irene de Pater, Brent Scott and I conducted shows that whereas young Hollywood actors and actresses make about the same in yearly earnings, that parity quickly evaporates as they age. According to our study, for actresses, their pay peaks at age 34 and then drops quickly thereafter. For actors, their pay peaks at a much later age -- 51 -- and just as importantly, does not drop after that nearly as severely as it does for actresses.

We measured leading actors and actresses over many years. At age 27, actresses make an average of $3.9 million, compared to $2.6 million for actors. By the age of 51, actors make an average of $5.3 million, more than five times as much as actresses.

Cate Blanchett reacts Sunday, March 2, after winning the best actress Oscar for her role in the film "Blue Jasmine." The first Academy Awards ceremony was held in Los Angeles in May 1929, honoring films and performances from 1927 and 1928. Here is a look back at the best actress winners before Blanchett, listed by the year in which they received their Oscar. Cate Blanchett reacts Sunday, March 2, after winning the best actress Oscar for her role in the film "Blue Jasmine." The first Academy Awards ceremony was held in Los Angeles in May 1929, honoring films and performances from 1927 and 1928. Here is a look back at the best actress winners before Blanchett, listed by the year in which they received their Oscar.
A history of Oscar-winning best actresses
A history of Oscar-winning best actresses A history of Oscar-winning best actresses

Why is it that age ravages the earnings of actresses compared to actors?

Some might blame Hollywood movie industry -- a field that is overwhelmingly male dominated. Some might argue that female actresses are more likely to take breaks from acting at the potential peak of their careers, as have Natalie Portman, Emily Blunt and Drew Barrymore. While there probably is some merit to these explanations, I think we need to look closer to home. To borrow from Pogo, I've met the enemy, and he is us.

Let's face it, we're an appearance-based society and despite social progress on many issues, I don't see much evidence that our obsession with appearance has faded over time. Indeed, some have argued that the growth in online communication and social media has only exacerbated the problem.

Some may feel that our obsession with beauty is a problem because it's superficial, it's hard to change, or it isn't related to true intrinsic worth (for example, a job or a mate). Yet we know that we value beauty even though it is hard to justify the value we place on it.

It's more insidious than that. Our beauty obsession particularly gets applied to women (who are more likely to be judged by their appearance than men) and against older individuals (people are rated as less physically attractive as they age). We are, therefore, especially biased against older women.

10 killer facts about the Oscars
One last chance to catch up with Oscar

Tell me about it, some of you more mature women may say.

It's important to remember that this isn't simply about male biases. Those exist, but so do female biases. Both men and women judge others by their appearance, and both genders are more likely to be especially biased against less attractive women and older individuals.

Who's really to blame here? Is it Hollywood, or those of us who consume Hollywood culture? There is plenty of blame to go around. Hollywood, like Washington, both leads and follows society.

In commenting on this disparity, Tina Fey said, in her characteristically satirical way, "There are still great parts in Hollywood for Meryl Streeps over 60." Judging by the current list of Best Actor/Actress nominees, including near-octogenarian Judi Dench, Fey is correct. In fact, some might say the Best Actor/Actress nominees are on the aged side, with none in their 20s, three in their 30s (one woman, two men), four in their 40s (two men, two women), and three older (two women, one man).

But the earnings don't follow, and the roles for older females are generally not as available, we found in our study. Even 83-year-old Clint Eastwood recognizes the problem, commenting, "Roles thin out when (actresses) get to a certain age. ... It's a crime."

The first step toward social change is to recognize the problem. We've got a beauty complex that does us little good and much harm. The sooner we own up to that, the sooner we can defeat that enemy within us.

As we enjoy the glamor of Hollywood at this time of year, all those beautiful people dressed to the nines should remind us: There is a lot more to life than looks. Let's confront our own biases that support this culture, and try harder to value the things that really matter.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Timothy A. Judge.

Part of complete coverage on
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?