Pay Inequity in Hollywood

Scarlett Johansson banked $40.5 million to be this year's highest-paid actress. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)

Scarlett Johansson banked $40.5 million to be this year’s highest-paid actress. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)


Though some aspects of gender-based discrimination and bias in Hollywood have gotten media attention due to the spread of the #MeToo movement, pay inequality in Hollywood is still a major unaddressed issue. The scope of Hollywood’s wage gap becomes immediately apparent when comparing the incomes of top actors and actresses.

According to Forbes’s annual highest-paid lists, the highest-paid actress of 2018 was Scarlett Johansson, who made a total of $40.5 million between June 1, 2017 and June 1, 2018. This pales in comparison to the $239 million that top-paid actor George Clooney raked in during that same time period. Despite Johansson’s status as 2018’s highest-paid actress in the world, she made only as much as Akshay Kumar, the seventh highest-paid actor on the list. And Angelina Jolie, the second highest-paid actress of 2018 with an income of $28 million, made less than all ten male actors included on Forbes’s highest-paid list.

Combined, the top ten highest-paid actors of 2018 took home a total of $748.5 million between June 1, 2017 and June 1, 2018. Comparatively, the combined income of the top-paid female actresses for the same period totals out at $186 million, merely a quarter of the men’s earnings.

These numbers show that the wage gap exists even among celebrities and millionaires. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that women earned 80.5 cents for every dollar men earned in 2016, and that this disparity is even greater for women of color. This disparity is also apparent in Hollywood, as the women featured on the list of highest-paid actresses are predominantly white.

During a panel called “Women Breaking Barriers” at the Sundance Film Festival, Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer recounted how she educated fellow actress and co-star Jessica Chastain about this disparity when Chastain approached her about starring in a movie together. The two then negotiated to make the same salary in the upcoming film to ensure that Spencer was not underpaid. Spencer is now making five times more than her initial offer to star in the film with Chastain. While pay inequality is still an issue, Spencer and Chastain are doing their part to advocate for equal pay for equal work in the film industry.

Gender inequality still has an overwhelming presence in our society, and this is a significant contributing factor when it comes to relationship violence. These two issues often exacerbate each other, as financial hardship can make it harder for someone experiencing violence to leave a relationship. We know that education and advocacy are the conduits to change  lays the foundation for change. We hope that more people like Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain use education to foster a culture of change when it comes to issues of inequality.