An analysis of the top 100 domestic grossing films of 2002 found evidence of a lingering double standard for aging female and male characters. Overall, major male characters outnumbered major female characters (73% vs. 27%); the majority of male characters were in their 30s and 40s, and the majority of female characters were in their 20s and 30s. Both women and men in their 60s and older were dramatically underrepresented compared to their representation in the US population. For male characters, leadership and occupational power increased with age. Men in their 40s, 50s, and 60s were more likely to play leadership roles and wield occupational power than were their female counterparts. As female characters aged, they were less likely to have goals.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Atkin, D. J., Moorman, J., & Lin, C. A. (1991). Ready for prime time: Network series devoted to working women in the 1980s. Sex Roles, 25, 677–685.
Bazzini, D. G., McIntosh, W. D., Smith, S. M., Cook, S., & Harris, C. (1997). The aging woman in popular film: Underrepresented, unattractive, unfriendly, and unintelligent. Sex Roles, 36, 531–543.
Brock, F. (2002, February 2). Catering to the elderly can pay off. New York Times, sec. 3, p. 11.
D’Alessandro, A. (2003, January 6–12). Top 250 of 2002. Variety, pp. 26–27.
Davis, D. M. (1990). Portrayals of women in prime-time network television: Some demographic characteristics. Sex Roles, 23, 325–332.
Dervin, B. (1989). Audience as listener and learner, teacher, and confidante: The sense-making approach. In R. E. Rice & C. K. Atkin (Eds.), Public communication campaigns (2nd. ed, pp. 67–86). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Drecksel, G. L. (1991). Leadership research: Some issues. Communication Yearbook, 14, 535–546.
Durkin, K. (1985). Television and sex-role acquisition 2: Effects. British Journal of Social Psychology, 24, 191–210.
Eagly, A. H., & Karau, S. J. (2002). Role congruity theory of prejudice toward female leaders. Psychological Review, 109, 573–598.
Elasmar, M., Hasegawa, K., & Brain, M. (1999). The portrayal of women in U.S. prime time television. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 43(1), 20–24.
Elkin, T. (1999, May 10). Enlightened age. Adweek, p. 20.
Gabler, N. (2003, April). The tyranny of 18 to 49: American culture held hostage. Los Angeles: Annenberg School for Communications.
Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Signorielli, N., & Morgan, M. (1980). Aging with television: Images on television drama and conceptions of social reality. Journal of Communication, 30, 37–47.
Giles, H., Fox, S., & Smith, E. (1993). Patronizing the elderly: Intergenerational evaluations. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 26, 129–149.
Glascock, J. (2001). Gender roles on prime-time network television: Demographics and behaviors. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 45, 656–669.
Greenberg, B. S. (1980). Life on television: Content analyses of U.S. TV drama. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Greenberg, B. S., Korzenny, R., & Atkin, C. (1980). Trends in the portrayal of the elderly. In B. S. Greenberg (Ed.), Life on television (pp. 23–34). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Guider, E. (2002, September 23–29). Boomers are goners as they hit the gray wall. Variety, pp. 8, 93.
Holson, L. M. (2004, January 18). And the winner is ... the older woman. New York Times, sec. 3, p. 12.
Korzenny, F., & Neuendorf, K. (1980). Television viewing and self-concept of the elderly. Journal of Communication, 30, 71–80.
Krippendorff, K. (2004). Reliability in content analysis: Some common misconceptions and recommendations. Human Communication Research, 30, 411–433.
Japp, P. M. (1991). Gender and work in the 1980s: Television’s working women as displaced persons. Women’s Studies in Communication, 14, 49–74.
Laditka, S. B., Fischer, M., Laditka, J. N., & Segal, D. R. (2004). Attitudes about aging and gender among young, middle age, and older college based students. Educational Gerontology, 30, 403–421.
Lauzen, M. M., & Dozier, D. M. (1999). Making a difference in prime time: Women on screen and behind the scenes in the 1995–96 television season. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 43, 1–19.
Lauzen, M. M., & Dozier, D. M. (2002). Equal time in prime time? Scheduling favoritism and gender on the broadcast networks. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 46, 137–153.
Lauzen, M. M., Dozier, D. M., & Hicks, M. V. (2001). Prime-time players and powerful prose: The role of women in the 1997–1998 television season. Mass Communication and Society, 4, 39–60.
Levy, B. R., Slade, M. D., Kunkel, S. R., & Kasl, S. V. (2002). Longevity increased by positive self-perceptions of aging. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 261–270.
Lichter, S. R., Lichter, L. S., & Rothman, S. (1994). Prime time: How TV portrays American culture. Washington, DC: Regnery.
McConatha, J. T., Schnell, R., Volkwein, K., Riley, L., & Leach, E. (2003). Attitudes toward aging: A comparative analysis of young adults from the United States and Germany. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 57, 203–215.
Morgan, M. (1982). Television and adolescents’ sex role stereotypes: A longitudinal study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, 947–955.
Motion Picture Association of America. (2003). 2002 U.S. movie attendance study. Retrieved from http://mpaa.org/useconomicreview/content.htm.
Nelson, T. (Ed.). (2002). Ageism: Stereotypes and prejudice against older persons. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
O’Hanlon, A. M., Camp, C. J., & Osofsky, H. J. (1993). Knowledge of and attitudes toward aging in young, middle-aged and older college students: A comparison of two measures of knowledge of aging. Educational Gerontology, 19, 753–766.
Olsen, M. (2004, January 17). No silver age for Hollywood. Los Angeles Times, E22.
Passuth, P. M., & Cook, F. L. (1985). Effects of television viewing on knowledge and attitudes about older adults: A critical reexamination. Gerontologist, 25, 69–77.
Perdue, C. W., & Gurtman, M. B. (1990). Evidence for the automaticity of ageism. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 26, 199–216.
Riffe, D., Lacy, S., & Fico, F. G. (1998). Analyzing media messages: Using quantitative content analysis in research. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Robbins, S. P. (1987). Organization theory: Structure, design, and applications (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Robinson, J. D., & Skill, T. (1995). The invisible generation: Portrayals of the elderly on prime-time television. Communication Reports, 8, 111–119.
Schroeder, A., Swerdlow, E. [Executive Producers], & Wilson, H. [Director]. (1996). The First Wives Club [Motion picture]. United States: Paramount.
Shields, V. R. (1999). Advertising to the general audience: Using sense-making to illuminate how audiences decode advertisements of idealized female bodies. Electronic Journal of Communication, 9, 1–11.
Signorielli, N., & Bacue, A. (1999). Recognition and respect: A content analysis of prime-time television characters across three decades. Sex Roles, 40, 527–544.
Simon, H. A. (1976). Administrative behavior (3rd ed.). New York: Free Press.
Skill, T., & Robinson, J. D. (1994). The image of Christian leaders in fictional programs. Sociology of Religion, 55, 75–84.
Sontag, S. (1972, September 23). The double standard of aging. Saturday Review, pp. 29–38.
Tedesco, N. S. (1974). Patterns in prime time. Journal of Communication, 25, 119–124.
U.S. Census Bureau. (2003). Detailed tables P12: Sex by age . Retrieved from http://factfmder.census.gov/servlet/DTTable?_ts=76848142529
Van de Berg, L. R., & Streckfuss, D. (1992). Prime-time television’s portrayal of women and the world of work: A demographic profile. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 36, 195–208.
Vernon, J. A., Williams, J. A., Phillips, T., & Wilson, J. (1991). Media stereotyping: A comparison of the way elderly women and men are portrayed on prime-time television. Journal of Women and Aging, 2, 55–68.
Weick, K. E. (1979). The social psychology of organizing (2nd ed.). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Wolf, N. (1991). The beauty myth: How images of beauty are used against women. New York: Doubleday.
About this article
Cite this article
Lauzen, M.M., Dozier, D.M. Maintaining the Double Standard: Portrayals of Age and Gender in Popular Films. Sex Roles 52, 437–446 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-005-3710-1