Women and Aging in Hollywod


Source: Lincoln, Anne E., and Michael Patrick Allen. “Double Jeopardy in Hollywood: Age and Gender in the Careers of Film Actors, 1926?1999.” Sociol Forum Sociological Forum 19, no. 4 (2004): 611-31. Accessed November 15, 2016. doi:10.1007/s11206-004-0698-1

Michael Patrick Allen and Anne E. Lincoln explore how age affects men and women differently in the film industry. When film began to emerge as an industry, acting was the first high-income and high-status occupation to have gender integration because of demand for heterosexual romance. Now, women appear in far fewer lead roles and are paid about half as much as their male counterparts. However, Allen and Lincoln write that the idea of sex-differentiated markets where women have different career paths than men doesn’t apply to acting, so men and women are on equal ground in that sense. And yet the occupation does not provide equal pay.

Allen and Lincoln offer a brief history of how men and women are cast in films. In the 1930s and 1940s, women were cast in melodramatic films (“women’s films”) while men were cast in Westerns and adventure films. Then, women’s films decreased dramatically in the 1950s, and by the 1970s roles for women all but disappeared. This coincided with the arrival of buddy films in the 70s that focused on “macho exploits and homoerotic bonds.” A perfect example of a buddy film is the movie Jaws, which features three male leads (and a puppet shark).

While women were pushed out of the film industry by movie genres, they were also pushed out by age. In the last two decades, actors have become younger than ever before. But this still disproportionately affects women; Allen and Lincoln write that “women over age 40 received only 24 percent of all female roles cast in television and film, while men over age 40 received 37 percent of all male roles.” Furthermore, the word “older” describes male actors over 40 and female actors over 30. Society seems to reject the idea that it is natural for women to age; perhaps it is because society’s ideal role for women is motherhood, and older women do not typically bear children.


8 thoughts on “Women and Aging in Hollywod

  1. The difference between “older” men and “older” women in Hollywood is crazy, with 40 considered as such for men and 30 for women. To me, neither of those ages seems “older” at all! Especially not 30, though. It’s interesting to see how the roles of women change in movies as they do get “older,” often becoming more serious and not as fun and flirty. The way Hollywood can shape perspectives about gender roles is almost disconcerting. The media really can have a huge impact on the way we think and perceive others.


  2. I remember reading lately that there was a young actress–like maybe late twenties, early thirties, who was told she was too old to be cast as the love interest of a 50 year old actor! The double-standards set in Hollywood are ridiculous, especially when you consider that societal beauty standards are often set by Hollywood–not only are actresses subjected to this, but so are everyday women as well.


  3. Oliva Newton was considered “too old” to play Sandy in Grease, however in the audition she realized she could pass as a high school teenage girl. Other cast members who were playing students Grease were in their late 30s. Does that mean Hollywood has gotten more strict on age compared to the 70s, 80s?


  4. This is such an important topic to discuss. It is also really interesting to look at the age of love interests in movies. Often, the woman in the movies are in their 30s, but the male love interest can be in his late 40s. However, if it was shift, society would have a problem with an older female actress with a younger man.


  5. I also think it’s crazy how age in Hollywood pushes women to get INSANE amounts of plastic surgery…but after reading this article I kind of see the reasoning behind it…because the older you look the less likely you are to get a job in the film industry, which is really depressing to me.


  6. This is interesting because like others have said, this plays out in “real life” with societal beauty ideals being very age-restrictive. I am in a health sexuality class this semester and it has been interesting to study the ways in which society feels that romance and sexuality inevitably die after couples (or at least women) reach about the age of thirty! I am sure that the way romantic women are and have been portrayed in film largely influences this cultural misconception (which has no actual empirical evidence).


  7. It is fascinating to think about how the age factor affects men and women differently in Hollywood. Older men, like George Clooney, retain the claim on their sexuality and are considered sexy “silver foxes.” Meanwhile, older women simply lose their sexual appeal.


  8. The film industry definitely has different standards for aging men and women. For example, older men are referred to as “silver foxes,” which connotes a sexy mature man. However, I can’t think of any positive terms referring to older women. Rather, I tend to hear comments like, “Wow, she’s wearing way too much makeup trying to hide her wrinkles” of older women in film. So while it’s true that Hollywood has different standards for men and women, I think a lot of that is also reflecting societal views in general (sadly). I’d be interested to know how much of that idea is Hollywood simply reflecting social views, and how much Hollywood has actually shaped and created that viewpoint.


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