Only 11% of respondents to a survey of TV and film viewers could name 15 leading actresses over the age of 40, despite more than 50% being able to identify the same number of leading men over 40.
More than 220 regular TV and film viewers were quizzed about their attitudes towards middle-aged actresses and ageism in the acting industry as part of a campaign calling for more and better roles for older women.
The campaign’s founder, actor and writer Nicky Clark, said the results shone a light on the issue of “gendered ageism” in the industry, and an ongoing imbalance of opportunity for male and female performers as they get older.
While 11% of respondents were able to identify 15 actresses over 40, 58% were able to name 15 male actors in the same age bracket.
Despite this, 98% said they were happy to see women over 40 in leading roles on screen, and 95% felt that young female performers should expect career longevity determined by talent, rather than age.
Clark said gendered ageism remained “a serious unrecognised problem” for the industry, and said: “A female drama student or young female actor should expect to have half the career trajectory of her male peers but she still does. In an industry as old and established as film and TV we’re still seeing the everyday ageist and sexist attitudes we saw at its inception.”
According to the survey, 61% of respondents felt that romantic relationships on screen should comprise actors of a similar age, and Clark said there was an eagerness from viewers to see more relationships as they are in life, mostly between people of the same age.
The Acting Your Age campaign was founded last year to highlight the lack of roles for middle-aged women, who Clark described as “the overlooked and under-appreciated secret engine of change”.
“[Older] men still get to play romantic leads, while women over 40, if featured at all, are seemingly cast as supportive ex-wives, bitter ex-wives or therapists,” she said.