Age and the academy

A new study of Oscar nominees shows that older guys and younger women get the statuettes.

Published March 13, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

The aging Hollywood leading man with the much younger wife or girlfriend on his arm is a Hollywood clichi. Now, a new analysis of Oscar nominations indicates that Academy Award voters, at least, like it that way.

The study, from the journal Psychological Reports, says the average age of a best actress winner in the past 25 years is 40.3. The average age for men is 45.6 -- a five-year difference. The disparity was even more pronounced in the best supporting acting categories, where the average ages are 41.8 and 51.9, respectively.

One of the two researchers behind the study, Pace University psychology professor Terence Hines, says that those statistics could be easily misinterpreted. "One possibility is that older women are discriminated against because of their age. But there is another possibility as well: It takes men longer to achieve the highest level. We have no way of knowing which is correct."

The study was initiated by Pace undergrad Michael Gilberg in Hines' statistics class. After last year's Academy Awards, best actress nominee Fernanda Montenegro, the 70-year-old star of "Central Station," complained that Gwyneth Paltrow won because she was young and pretty, not because of her talent. Gilberg decided to check her theory, rooting through 25 years worth of Oscar history.

While the gap isn't enormous, it is significant, and for actors it grew even larger when nominees, rather than just winners, were analyzed. Best actor nominees were on average 45.6 years old; best actresses, 38.8. Best supporting actor nominees were 48.1; best supporting actress nominees, 39.9. The final report also included the average ages of Grammy and Emmy winners, which followed the same pattern of older men and younger women.

Hines wouldn't make a prediction based on who would take home awards this year, but based on the findings, Annette Bening, Janet McTeer and Julianne Moore, all from 38 to 41, would be the most average of the nominees. Meryl Streep, at 50, would go a little toward evening up Paltrow's win from last year. And if Hilary Swank, 25, wins for "Boys Don't Cry"? Well, we'll all have to start taking what Fernanda Montenegro says a little bit more seriously.

By Jeff Stark

Jeff Stark is the associate editor of Salon Arts and Entertainment.

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