Sex Roles, Vol. 52, Nos. 7/8, April 2005 (
Maintaining the Double Standard: Portrayals of Age
and Gender in Popular Films
Martha M. Lauzen
and David M. Dozier
An analysis of the top 100 domestic grossing ﬁlms of 2002 found evidence of a lingering dou-
ble standard for aging female and male characters. Overall, major male characters outnum-
bered 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 representa-
tion 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 oc-
cupational power than were their female counterparts. As female characters aged, they were
less likely to have goals.
KEY WORDS: age; gender; ﬁlm.
In the ﬁlm The First Wives’ Club, Goldie
Hawn’s character laments, “There are only three
ages for women in Hollywood: babe, district attor-
ney, and driving Miss Daisy” (Schroeder, Swerdlow,
& Wilson, 1996). This line sums up the unfortunate
alchemy gender and age conjure for women in ﬁlm.
Prior researchers who have examined the representa-
tion of age and gender in the media have found that
men enjoy longer and more vital screen lives than
women do. The resulting double standard allows sub-
stantial numbers of male characters to age at least
into their 40s, whereas many female characters re-
main forever frozen in their 20s and 30s. Moreover,
female characters who do age into their 40s and be-
yond suffer more substantial consequences than do
their male counterparts, including diminished men-
tal and physical capacities (Bazzini, McIntosh, Smith,
Cook, & Harris, 1997; Gerbner, Gross, Signorielli, &
Morgan, 1980; Greenberg, Korzenny, & Atkin, 1980;
Vernon, Williams, Phillips, & Wilson, 1991).
School of Communication, San Diego State University, San
To whom correspondence should be addressed at School of Com-
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In this study we considered whether popular
ﬁlms continue to perpetuate this double standard.
We examined the top 100 domestic grossing ﬁlms of
2002, and considered (1) the quantitative represen-
tation of female and male characters in various age
categories, and (2) the degree of purposiveness char-
acters enjoyed, as measured by their possession of
goals and effectiveness in achieving those goals, oc-
cupational power, and leadership status.
These cultural representations are nontrivial as
they may interact with other factors to inﬂuence and
reinforce perceptions of gender and age. Researchers
acknowledge that many factors contribute to the for-
mation of attitudes toward gender and age, includ-
ing one’s stage in the life cycle (Laditka, Fischer,
Laditka, & Segal, 2004), application of unconscious
or automatic schemas (Perdue & Gurtman, 1990),
knowledge of the aging process (O’Hanlon, Camp,
& Osofsky, 1993), fear of aging (McConatha, Schnell,
Volkwein, Riley, & Leach, 2003), and personal expe-
riences with the elderly (Bader, 1980).
Media images also contribute to audience mem-
bers’ understanding or misunderstanding of age and
gender, which inﬂuence their perceptions of the size
of various age cohorts and competencies of the indi-
viduals who make up those cohorts. Gerbner et al.
2005 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.