Lack of representation of middle aged women in movies is a commonly noted concern regarding women in the media. A 2014 study showed that actresses hit their peak salary at age 34, while actors hit their peak at age 51. While men’s salary remains stable after this peak, there is a drastic reduction in salary for the women (1).
One reason why this may be happening is because most movies are not about middle aged women. Middle-aged women in movies are often background characters like someone’s wife or mother. The few roles for middle-aged women are often filled by younger women. A 21-year-old Jennifer Lawrence played the role of Tiffany in the film Silver Linings Playbook, depicting a widow in her 30s(2).
This career decline at 34 for actresses is certainly not related to their acting ability. Acting is a skill that should improve with age and practice. One can conclude that the decline is due to the way women look as they age rather than by the way they act.
How does this affect the way men see women?
Do these films teach women that they become less valuable after a certain age without society even realizing it?
Do they create unrealistic expectations about what women should look like as they age?
These questions are difficult to definitively answer. I for one would like to see movies depicting what women actually look like at their given age, as well as more movies featuring women after they reach their “prime” age of 34.
Now for the good news.
This year’s Oscar nominations show promise! There are five nominations for best actress, including Isabelle Hubbert (age 63) and Meryl Streep (67). They also include Ruth Negga and Natalie Portman, both age 35—one year past the “peak” age of 34!
In fact only one actress, Emma Stone, is under the age of 30 (3). This may be a promising sign that the film industry actually can shift and become more representative and accepting of actresses over the age of 34.
While the Oscar winners are decided by Academy members only, consumers have power in their own right. Movie making is a business, and box office numbers don’t lie. Consider using your purchase of a movie ticket as a vote. Of course, we have nothing against young actresses-we love them too.
Perhaps consider giving some positive reinforcement to films that feature middle-aged women and star middle-aged actresses by going to see one of their films on your next visit to the movie theater.
- De Pater IE, Judge TA, Scott BA. Age, Gender, and Compensation: A Study of Hollywood Movie Stars. J Manage Inq. 2014;23:407-420.
- Campbell N. 6 Female Celebrities Who Played Characters Older Than Their Age. http://www.teen.com/2016/03/13/celebrities/female-celebrities-who-played-characters-older-than-their-age/#1. Accessed 15 February 2017.
- Nominees. http://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/2017. Accessed 15 February 2017.