The Relationship Between Desirability and Aging for Men versus Women
Updated: Mar 12
Dear Asian Youth,
Analyzing the media we consume is one of the best ways to discern the collective values of our society. Recently, more and more people have been pointing out the age discrepancy between male and female actors in film and TV. This is well exemplified in a study by Time that examines the relationship between age and desirability in Hollywood. The study used data points of the top five leading actors and actresses from the top 5,000 grossing movies on IMDB, accumulating to a total of 6,000 actors and actresses. Afterwards, researchers looked into every movie that these actors and actresses had appeared in to discern the peak desirability for women vs. men in the film industry. The chart shown below is a compilation of this data. The women are shown in red, whereas the men are shown in blue. While women initially receive more roles, “That trend reverses sharply after 30 as men continue to receive an increasing number of roles through age 46 while women receive fewer and fewer.”
Actors are expected to look desirable as part of their appeal. The way that younger women are preferred while older men are still considered attractive is problematic. The typical older man and younger woman trope in Hollywood fully demonstrates this trend. A study by Vulture analyzed 10 A-list actors and picked a representative sample of their films where that actor had a notable love interest. The article itself provides an in-depth analysis of each actor chosen for the study, but the final results confirmed that even as the actor ages throughout the different films they are cast in, their female counterparts remain the same age. In fact, an actress out of her mid-thirties was considered an outlier for most of these men, and the only times when the age gap would lessen was when the female love interest was also an A-list celebrity.
Unfortunately, these values are actually quite accurate within our society. Business Insider cites a study from the book “Dataclysm,” created by the book’s author and co-founder of dating site OkCupid, which conveys how women and men differ in the age of those they consider desirable. The data comes from OkCupid. The charts below illustrate this data, by comparing a man’s age vs. the age of the women who look best to him and by comparing a woman’s age vs. the age of the men who look best to her.
While the chart comparing a woman’s age vs. the age of the men who look best to her shows a linear relationship, the chart comparing a man’s age vs. the age of the women who look best to him reveals that “Men, regardless of their age, tend to say women in their early 20s look best…” This means that most men between the ages of 20-50 all showed a preference for women aged 20-22.
Similarly, The Atlantic analyzes a study by Elizabeth Bruch, a professor of sociology at the University of Michigan, demonstrating that women see their desirability drop off from the age of 18, whereas men peak around their 40s and 50s.
One common argument that people make for this discrepancy is that women lose “value” as they age because this reflects a women’s loss of reproductive value (NCBI). Biologically, women are unfit for producing children long before a man is, because the brunt of childbearing is on the women. Furthermore, there are various theories regarding a male’s maturity taking longer to develop and even older men being a symbol of monetary power (Fatherly).
While it’s understandable how these arguments would factor into this issue, I believe this discrepancy is more closely tied to the way that society treats women. The harsh beauty standards in our society are specifically directed towards women. While men in our media are allowed to have flaws both inside and out, women are expected to be perfect. This is a direct result of the constant objectification of women in the film industry. The way that Hollywood consistently replaces rising actresses with younger actresses, while their male counterparts are allowed to age, represents a society that commodifies women and reduces their value to the way they look. In the article “Age in Crisis, How Hollywood Killed Female Adulthood,” Natalia Norecka questions, “ Why is a 40 year old man allowed to be merely human onscreen, while she must forever retain her mystical impossibility, a level of ange;-like perfection only attainable by those who have only recently lost their baby teeth?”
Additionally, going back to the study posted by Vulture, one of the final analyses was again that the only times when the age gap would lessen was when the love interest was also an A-list celebrity. On the other hand, “in movies that relied solely on our guy’s big name, the lesser-known love interests would nearly always be decades younger.” I believe this idea of finding new lesser-known actors for the love interests shows that women are considered easily replaceable.
All in all, bringing awareness to these age discrepancies will force Hollywood to produce more media inclusive to women of all ages that show that women are not objects to be thrown out with age. These tropes and values try to make women feel like they have to tether someone down, before they “lose” desirability. Society needs to acknowledge that these notions are misogynistic at heart and redefine the relationship between desirability and ageing.
- Lora K.
Cover Photo Source: The New York Times