Female actors get less pay and shorter careers

Female performers earn significantly less and have shorter careers than their male counterparts, new research has revealed.

The European-wide study, which is the first to focus on actors and entertainers, shows that “women as a group do not earn as much or as consistently as men” and highlights the fact there is a “significant difference between women and men in career length”.

Both male and female actors across Europe responded to the survey, which was carried out by the European arm of the Federation of International Actors. They were asked to indicate which bracket they fell into regarding how long they have been in the profession. The largest percentage in any of the time categories for both men and women is 20%, however, for women this is in the seven to ten-year bracket, while for men this is in the 30 years plus section. By contrast, only 11.5% of the female respondents are in the 30 years plus bracket.

On average, the report concludes that women’s careers last 11-15 years, while men will work on average for 16-20 years.

In relation to pay, respondents were asked to indicate their financial income from 2006/7. Figures revealed that the majority of both male and female performers fall into either the under £6,000 category or the £6,000-£11,999 section. However, more than a third – 38% – of female performers are in the under £6,000 category, compared with less than a quarter – 24% – of men. Meanwhile, female performers make up just 0.4% of the over £60,000 income category, compared with 4% of men.

According to the report, a quarter of male respondents feel ageing is an advantage in relation to pay, against just 3% of women.

Responding to the findings, Equity vice-president Jean Rogers said the results “confirmed the anxieties about the portrayal of women and the invisibility of the older woman”, which she claimed were concerns experienced worldwide, not just in Europe.

Deputy general secretary of the FIA Dearbhal Murphy, who coordinated the project, added: “I think the findings in themselves are not shocking because they are what people suspected. What’s important is they are a very strong confirmation of what people felt to be the case. They are the proof and can be used to put pressure on decision-makers at all levels.”

The report, entitled Changing Gender Portrayal – Promoting Employment Opportunities for Women in the Performing Arts, was compiled using the responses of more than 2,000 participants from acting unions affiliated with the FIA. Equity members made up 48% of the responses and almost three-quarters of all the participants said they worked mainly in theatre.

The survey found that only 39% of women feel they work regularly with a “lot of choice”, compared with 61.4% of men. However, 61% of female performers say they worked infrequently, “with little choice”, against 39% of men.

More than half of the female performers questioned see their gender as a reason for lack of employment. When asked what they saw as important in terms of opportunity for work, four-fifths of women say previous work with employers and almost 50% say the roles writers create. Almost half also cite attractiveness as a factor in employment opportunity. When asked to rank age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and parental/caring responsibilities in order of disadvantageousness, gender is seen as the most disadvantageous for women, followed by age. In contrast, only 4% of men see gender as a disadvantage.

As reported by The Stage last month, 73% of women see their gender as a disadvantage in terms of variety of roles on offer, compared with 7% of men who regard being male as putting them at a disadvantage in relation to role variety.

Murphy said that the FIA would raise the results of the survey with the European Commission and the women’s committee in the European Parliament to find ways forward.

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