2020 Oscar nominations have massive 21-year age gap between male and female actors nominated

Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce in <em>The Two Pope</em>s. (Photo: Netflix)
Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes. (Photo: Netflix)

The uproar over another all-male directing category and a near-repeat of #OscarsSoWhite in the wake of Monday's Academy Award nominations largely overshadowed another notable blemish on the ballot: There is a staggering 21-year age gap between the average ages of the men and women nominated in the acting races.

While the median age of men nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor is 61.3, the median age of the women nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress is 39.8. (The second figure counts Scarlett Johansson twice, since she was nominated for both Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit.)

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It's the widest age gap we've seen in at least two-and-a-half decades, if not ever, according to our research (see below) examining the ages of Oscar nominees in the acting categories over the past 25 years. The 21.6-year gap is also the biggest discrepancy we've seen in a full decade. In 2010, male nominees were an average of 14.9 years older than female nominees.

Of course, it's well known fact that women have long (always) faced age bias in Hollywood, with women over 40 in particular facing far steeper challenges to sustain lengthy careers than men of the same age. So the numbers speak as much, if not more, to rampant ageism in the film industry as much as they do bias among Oscar voters.

But the numbers are still jarring when it comes to the nominations. Over the past 25 years, the average age of a man nominated for acting Oscar is 48.0, while the average age of a woman is 41.2 — a stark difference of 6.8 years.

Only four times in the past quarter-century has the median age of women nominated been higher than that of men — in 1997, 2001, 2014  and 2017.

A quick glance at this year's acting nominees helps explain why this year's age gap is so dramatic: You've got The Two Popes (Jonathan Pryce, 72, and Anthony Hopkins, 82), a pair of aging mobsters (The Irishman's Al Pacino, 79, and Joe Pesci, 76) and Mister Rogers (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood's Tom Hanks, 63). As Vanity Fair's Mark Harris pointed out in a piece that inspired our research, Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) is the youngest person nominated for Best Supporting Actor, and he's 56. (He's aging like Benjamin Button, but he's 56 nonetheless.)

While six of the female acting nominees are under 40 — Cynthia Erivo (Harriet, 33), Saoirse Ronan (Little Women, 25), Florence Pugh (Little Women, 24), Margot Robbie (Bombshell, 29) and Scarlett Johansson x2 (35) — only one of the men is: Marriage Story's Adam Driver (35).

Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan and Emma Watson in <em>Little Women</em>. (Photo: Sony)
Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan and Emma Watson in Little Women. (Photo: Sony)

The Academy has made considerable and admirable efforts to diversify their voting body in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite. But the fact remains that it's still largely a majority of older white men, and the results still mirror the demographics. That means in addition to inherent (if unintended) gender bias in the directing category or racial bias in the acting categories, there could be age bias on display as well.

It's possible that's reflected in a couple of the biggest snubs this year, with 67-year-old Alfre Woodard failing to land in the Best Actress race for her acclaimed role in Clemency despite career-best reviews. In Best Actor, Pryce likely edged out 30-year-old Taron Egerton for the fifth and final slot — and the absence of Egerton, who won a Golden Globe, is particularly egregious considering Rami Malek won the Oscar last year for lip-synching as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, while Egerton performed his own Elton John songs to dazzling results in Rocketman.

So like older women face higher odds to earn Oscar noms, so do younger men. In the past 25 years, 132 of the women nominated have been under 40, compared to only 79 men.

This year’s average of 61.3 for the male nominees is an outlier, sure. But apparently poor 12-year-old Jojo Rabbit star Roman Griffin Davis never stood a chance.

Average Ages of Actors Nominated for Academy Awards

                                    MALE                                      FEMALE

2020                            61.3                                         39.8

2019                            51.2                                         43.3

2018                            55.7                                         49.2

2017                            42.7                                         44.8

2016                            46.9                                         37.4

2015                            50.5                                         41.0

2014                            41.0                                         49.5

2013                            54.7                                         44.3

2012                            55.1                                         42.8

2011                            44.0                                         38.1

2010                            53.7                                         38.8

2009                            46.8                                         39.2

2008                            50.1                                         42.2

2007                            45.5                                         41.1

2006                            39.0                                         37.8

2005                            47.8                                         35.4

2004                            43.6                                         37.8

2003                            52.4                                         39.7

2002                            47.7                                         43.7

2001                            42.9                                         43.8

2000                            42.1                                         33.1

1999                            50.9                                         44.7

1998                            52.8                                         43.6

1997                            40.6                                         42.7

1996                            41.7                                         35.4

AVERAGE                   48.0                                         41.2

*Double nominees counted twice

**Posthumous nominations represented by age actor would have been day of announcement

The 92nd Academy Awards air Sunday, Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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