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Fewer, Younger, but Increasingly Powerful: How Portrayals of Women, Age, and Power Have Changed from 2002 to 2016 in the 50 Top-Grossing U.S. Films


A content analysis by Lauzen and Dozier (2005) of the 88 top-grossing U.S. films of 2002 found ample evidence for inequality of gender and age representation: Men made up 72% of all characters; women past the age of 40 became less and less visible, whereas men remained visible throughout their 50s; and significant gender differences in terms of leadership and occupational power were found, with women holding fewer positions of occupational power and rarely shown in leadership roles. The current study sought to establish whether these gender and age representations continue to exist in films made almost 15 years later. Our analysis of the 50 top-grossing U.S. movies of 2016 found that women are still underrepresented in film (32.8% of all characters) but that this proportion improved significantly since 2002. Women in their 30s and men in their 40s are most overrepresented when compared to the U.S. population, and women over 60 are severely underrepresented. However, there was no gender difference in the proportion of major characters playing leadership roles, demonstrating social aggression, or possessing goals, all of which are noteworthy differences from the films of 2002. Female characters also made marginal strides in holding occupational power and in their displays of physical aggression. Additionally, we found that women achieved their goals at significantly higher rates than men did. Overall, although a disconnect still persists regarding the ratio of men to women in film, the presence and portrayal of both women and older characters has improved since 2002.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Conor Neville.

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Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest

None of the possible sources of conflict of interest listed in the “Instructions for Authors” applies to this study submission. The only funding was provided by the psychology department of Saint Joseph’s University who agreed to pay for the renting of nine of the films, providing a total of $52.25. There was no conflict of interest provided by either this funding or any other non-financial events.

Research Involving Human Participants or Animals

As this was a content analysis, no human participants were used in this study. No animals were used in the conducting of this study.

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Due to the fact that no human participants were used in this study, there was no need to achieve informed consent.

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Neville, C., Anastasio, P. Fewer, Younger, but Increasingly Powerful: How Portrayals of Women, Age, and Power Have Changed from 2002 to 2016 in the 50 Top-Grossing U.S. Films. Sex Roles 80, 503–514 (2019).

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  • Gender equality
  • Age
  • Film
  • Leadership
  • Aggression
  • Social aggression
  • Occupational power
  • Goals