Newswise — A new analysis reveals long-term trends in female representation in the U.S. movie industry, including a sharp decline associated with the “Studio System” era that dominated Hollywood from 1922 to 1950. Luís A. Nunes Amaral of Northwestern University, Illinois, and colleagues present these findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on April 1, 2020. 

While research suggests that gender diversity has significant benefits across industries, women remain underrepresented in many fields, including the U.S. movie industry. However, the movie industry is unlikely to be affected by mechanisms—such as lack of interest or differences in innate ability—that are sometimes hypothesized to explain gender imbalance in other fields.

To better understand gender imbalance in Hollywood, Amaral and colleagues used data from the American Film Institute and the Internet Movie Database to analyze female representation among the teams behind more than 26,000 movies produced in the U.S. from 1911 to 2010. 

The analysis showed that female representation among actors, directors, and producers declined dramatically with the birth of the Hollywood Studio System in 1922. During this period, which lasted through 1950, just a few major studios controlled all facets of the movie-making process. 

Further statistical analysis uncovered an association between the lack of female producers during the Studio System era and a decline in female directors, screenwriters, and actors. After legal challenges ended the Studio System, actresses gained bargaining power, enabling some to later become producers and directors. Since then, female representation in Hollywood has slowly increased, but remains low. 

While the new findings do not demonstrate causal relationships, they suggest that female producers and directors may help further the careers of other women in the industry. The findings could also shed new light on disparities in other fields, such as computer science, that experienced similar declines in female representation as the fields grew in importance. 

The authors add: Our study reveals that even in an activity — acting — where women have greater levels of interest then men and at least equal ability, they are still discriminated against. Our study is also consistent with the hypothesis that when an industry grows in importance and size it can experience a collapse of diversity.


In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS ONE


Citation: Amaral LAN, Moreira JAG, Dunand ML, Tejedor Navarro H, Lee HA (2020) Long-term patterns of gender imbalance in an industry without ability or level of interest differences. PLoS ONE 15(4): e0229662.


Funding: JAGM thanks Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia for grant SFRH-BD-76115-2011, LANA thanks Department of Defense’s Army Research Office for grant 281 W911NF-14-1-0259, the John Templeton Foundation for Award FP053369-A//39147 and the John and Leslie McQuown Gift.


Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Journal Link: PLoS ONE