Why does Jennifer Lawrence earn less than male Hollywood stars?

Forbes’ annual list of highest-paid actors and actresses show that in entertainment at least, the gap between the genders still exists. 

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/File
Cast member Jennifer Lawrence poses at a press line for "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2" during the 2015 Comic-Con International Convention in San Diego, California, in this file photo taken July 9, 2015. Lawrence, who tops the Forbes' latest list of highest-paid actresses with an estimated $52 million in earnings from June 2014 to June 2015, still earns nearly $30 million less than her male counterpart – a fact that highlights the continuing wage gap in Hollywood.

It seems Hollywood has a way to go before achieving equal pay. 

Jennifer Lawrence topped Forbes’s annual list of highest-paid actresses with combined earnings of $52 million in the last year, thanks largely to the success of the “Hunger Games” franchise and her lucrative contract with French fashion and beauty company Dior. But Ms. Lawrence’s income falls far short of the $80 million that “Iron Man” star and highest-paid male actor Robert Downey, Jr. made in the same time frame.

The disparity again highlights the huge gap in wages that exists in the entertainment industry – one that women in the business, from Meryl Streep to Amanda Seyfried, have increasingly called out. And while the issue begins at the top of the food chain with Oscar-winning box-office stars like Lawrence, critics note that the problem trickles down to directors, producers, scriptwriters, and the industry’s other behind-the-scenes jobs.

“This Hollywood gender wage gap isn’t just a first-world problem for the mostly white women who get skillions of dollars thrown at them all day long and tote around free goody bags worth $168,000,” Slate reports. “As Mollie Hemingway catalogs at the Federalist, women lag absurdly far behind men in basically every Tinseltown gig.”

The issue drew major media attention in November, after a breach of Sony Entertainment’s servers revealed that the more experienced Charlize Theron was to make $10 million less than her co-star Chris Hemsworth in the upcoming film, “The Huntsman.” The same leak showed that Lawrence and Amy Adams made 7 percent of back-end profits from “American Hustle” while their male co-stars received 9 percent.

A spreadsheet of salaries of Sony staffers – also from November’s trove of hacked documents – revealed that of the 17 employees who were making $1 million or more, only one is a woman, according to The Daily Beast.

The situation doesn’t appear to have changed much in the months since. Based on the latest Forbes list, the combined $281 million that the 18 best-paid actresses in the world earned is only about $21 million more than the combined income of the top five highest-paid actors. Only four women made north of $20 million, compared to 21 men.

"But it’s not about how much you get, it’s about how fair it is," "Ted 2" star Amanda Seyfried told The Sunday Times. She added that on one of her previous films, she learned that she was making 10 percent of her male co-star's take. "You have to decide if you’re willing to walk away from something, especially as a woman.”

The trouble, some have said, is in representation.

“Roles for women continue to remain scarce, particularly in an industry where far too often talent remains defined by youthful good looks rather than acting ability,” Forbes noted in 2013. “Without greater access to big studio roles, even the most coveted women in entertainment will rarely collect the same type of on-screen paychecks as their male counterparts.”

In 2013’s 100 top-grossing films, men had nearly 71 percent of all speaking roles, according to the latest Status of the Women in the US Media, published by the Women’s Media Center. The same goes for non-acting positions: Women comprised less than 2 percent of directors, about 7 percent of writers, and just under 20 percent of producers.

So what needs to be done?

Former Sony executive Amy Pascal, who left the company in the wake of the data breach, acknowledged in 2013 that Hollywood as an institution has to work harder to close the gap. “I think that the whole system is geared for them [women] to fail and we’re going to have to change a lot of what we do in order for that to happen,” she told Forbes at the time.

Another way of promoting gender equality on a broad scale is to ensure transparency, advocates say. On learning that Mr. Hemsworth was making more than she was in their new film, for instance, Ms. Theron negotiated a substantial raise, The Huffington Post reported.

“It’s a very basic check on discrimination,” Ariane Hegewisch, the study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a Washington-based think tank, told the Post. “If you don’t know whether you're paid equally you can’t enforce your right.”

Still, it's an uphill battle. In February, Ms. Pascal – in the face of criticism over the Sony pay disparity – said that women have to fight to get the salaries they deserve. “They have to walk away” instead of accepting less pay, she said, according to Bloomberg. "I run a business. People want to work for less money, I’ll pay them less money. I don’t call them up and go, can I give you some more?” 

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