Debunking the Hollywood Gender Pay Gap

A few days ago Ashton Kutcher tweeted his support of fellow actor Natalie Portman, and her challenge to negotiate employment contracts of equal worth to her male colleagues.

‘News’ regarding the Hollywood gender pay gap have also recently also resurfaced in the form of Meryl Streep’s enthusiastic reaction to Patricia Arquette’s 2015 Oscar speech calling out the gender pay gap in Hollywood. (This was on the back of Streep’s recent Golden Globes 2017 acceptance speech, which similarly characterized the Hollywood elite as one of the most victimized demographics within the US). 

Kutcher, and Bradley Cooper before him, has expressed their support after learning that their Portman and Jennifer Lawrence, respectively, were paid a smaller fee for starring in the same film. In these two examples, the fees earned by the male and female costars is comparable (as elaborated in the infographic below). However, more generalized  discussions regarding the Hollywood pay gap are largely supported by pernicious and blatantly misleading information. 

The New York Film Academy (NYFA) is perhaps one of the worst offenders. The NYFA annually manipulates the annual Forbes ‘Highest Paid Actors’ lists into an infographic which represents top tier Hollywood actresses as more exploited than the average American woman. Much like the 77c in the $1 figure widely circulated in mainstream media, and thoroughly debunked by Prof. Steven Horwitz, the NYFA calculates the pay gap as an aggregate of female versus male earnings, with little consideration for the multitude of other mitigating factors..

Below is an infographic that I have created to demonstrate how the NYFA draw a false correlation between actor earnings and gender inequality. I do not aim to prove that gender inequality does not exist in Hollywood, there are many other indications that it does. However, a direct comparison of real income is not one of those indications.

Ultimately, like the NYFA, I am dependent on publicly available information regarding film budgets, profits, and actor earnings, and this information is often estimated and incomplete. As such the statistics that I have generated are not to be taken as 100% accurate or even quotable, but rather as illustrative of the range of other factors which contribute to differences in pay. With this in mind, I would love your feedback regarding improvements to be made, or even to see you rework and improve upon this information.

Here is a link to a higher resolution version of the document:


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