The gender gap in TV shows is narrowing but there is still a huge male dominance and age discrimination. The share of female characters on screen is up, though male characters still occupy about 16 percentage points more screen time, according to a new study of top 10 US TV shows for each season 2010 to 2021. With their popularity outside the US, the gender gap etc in US TV shows have a global impact.
The study called See It, Be It: What Families are Seeing on TV is made by Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media in partnership with Google Research and the Signal Analysis and the University of Southern California.
“Male characters’ share of screen time in popular programming outpaces female characters’ share of screen time by a large margin, but screen time for female characters is increasing. Over the past 12 years, there has been an estimated 7.1 percentage-point increase in female characters’ share of screen time, suggesting the casts for popular scripted programs are changing and achieving greater gender parity”, the report says.
The Institute says that entertainment media, like scripted television, profoundly shapes the minds of young people as well as social narratives.
“It influences how we perceive the world, how we see ourselves holding place in society, what we should value, what we should respect, what careers we may pursue, who gets to be the hero, and more.”
“Analyzing and measuring inclusion and representation in entertainment media contributes to eliminating unconscious bias that can reinforce negative behavior, prejudice, colorism, body shame, low self-esteem, and other harmful stereotypes. We hope this report inspires the creation of more equitable media content.”
- Screen time is increasing for male and female characters with medium and dark skin tones, but the majority of screen time is occupied by male and female characters with a light skin tone.
- The share of screen time for characters with medium and dark skin tones is steadily increasing over the 12 years analyzed. This increase is especially large for female characters with medium and dark skin tones. In 2021, their share of screen time is up to 5.4% and 6.9%, from 2.0% and 0.3% respectively.
- Visual speaking time has increased for female characters with dark skin tone about 1.2% per year, the highest rate of all race and gender groups. However, their overall speaking time when they are on screen is still the lowest.
- Older men but younger women dominate on screen, however the gap is less over time: In more recent programming, the most common group on screen for women are characters over 18, under 33 (31.2% of screen time), but for men the most common group on screen are characters over 33, under 60 (28.5% screen time).
- The share of screen time for female characters over 33, under 60 is just 8.0%, an age gap of 20 points.
- Older female characters remain rarely seen: The share of screen time for female characters over 18, under 33 and over 33, under 60 is up slightly over the past 12 years (3 points and 2 points, respectively). There is no change in the share of screen time for female characters ages over 60 or under 18.
The report says that one of the most direct ways to broaden inclusion in popular entertainment media is to grow the casts of long-running shows to include more people of colour with diverse skin tones. Other suggested actions to improve the balance:
- 1.Popular scripted TV shows are often shows that have been on the air for many years. Add to these casts with more diverse and authentic characters and storylines, including minor roles and background characters.
- 2. Diversify behind the scenes. More diversity behind the scenes leads to more diversity in front of the camera. Studios can hire more diverse writers and directors, but they can also get at the root of the problem by supporting or creating programs that address deeper pipeline issues.
- 3. Eliminate the age gap. As our report found, older men but younger women dominate the screen. For decades, entertainment media has paired younger women with older men for flirty or romantic storylines. By keeping the age gap in mind when casting roles for such storylines, the large disparity between older men and women on screen can be reduced.
- 4. Challenge expectations about who can play what. This report finds female characters over 60 are rarely seen. Consider older women, especially women of color with diverse skin tones, to play characters in male-dominated occupations, such as criminal justice, even in background roles, to bridge this gap.