The Hollywood Age Gap: Where the Men Get Older and the Women Get Younger

-Kia Andersen

In a March interview on The Howard Stern Show, Olivia Wilde revealed that she was turned down for a role in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street for being “too old.” Wilde was 28 at the time, while DiCaprio was 37 – meaning Wilde was nine years younger than her male co-star. The role ended up going to Margot Robbie, who was only 22 at the time.

The Wolf of Wall Street is just one of many examples in Hollywood. Large age gaps between male and female actors have been normalized in the industry for years. For example, in Third Person there is a 34 year age difference between stars Liam Neeson (63) and Olivia Wilde (29), while Steve Carell (46) and Anne Hathaway (26) in Get Smart have a 20 year age gap. The problem is not these age gaps themselves; a relationship between two consenting adults is good, and any kind of diversity (even in age) should be encouraged in the Hollywood industry. The problem is that this trend is one sided. The trend of older male actors paired with younger female actresses has become normalized, while the opposite pairing remains stigmatized. Movies that feature older female actresses and younger male actors almost exclusively define the relationship based on age. The plot almost unfailingly centers on the woman’s predatory, cougar-like behaviour and why she, psychologically, chooses a younger man; implying something that is wrong with her (seen in How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998), or Prime (2005)). These movies are often filled with cringe worthy disapproving comments, or jokes about older women dating younger men.  

Leading ladies in Hollywood face a mysterious casting cut-off around the age of 35. GraphJoy did an analysis on age gaps by looking at the top 20 male actors and their movies with romantic interests from 1980-2015 and they found that there is a relatively low age gap until the age of 35. After these male actors became older than 35, the age gap between their romantic interests increased dramatically. For example, Tom Cruise; his average age gap is one year from the beginning of his career until he was 35. But his average after age 35 jumps to a shocking 12 year average gap. This type of data is mirrored in the careers of Denzel Washington, Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis, and Michael Douglas. On this trend, Helen Mirren commented “Fucking outrageous! As James Bond got more and more geriatric, his girlfriends got younger and younger.”

Unfortunately, on-screen relationships seep into the industry and shape public perception. The message these trends send is that women’s value comes from their looks. The mysterious age of 35 is placing an expiry date on women – one that does not exist for male actors. Hollywood values have real life consequences for real life women, whose appearances are valued above their abilities, talents, and experiences. This leads to discrimination in the workplace (check out the tumblr blog shitpeoplesaytowomendirectors) and in society as a whole. All because of something as simple and unavoidable as aging. Hollywood finds sexiness and beauty in aging male characters. The love that Hollywood has for “silver foxes” should be given to their sexy “silver vixen” counterparts.

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