Group of people over 50 years old smiling, with an Asian woman and a Black woman as the focus.

Women Over 50: The Right to be Seen on Screen


Executive Summary

For this report, the NextFifty Initiative collaborated with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media to survey Americans’ attitudes about representations of older adults and analyze representations of women 50+ in film and television. This comprehensive study systematically examines how gender-based representation intersects with age-based representation in the minds of media consumers and in American entertainment media.

The findings from our survey show that representations of men and women 50+ are out of line with consumer demand – viewers of all ages are hungry for more balanced, diverse, and aspirational portrayals of older men and women. Our analysis of the most popular films and television shows1 from 2010 to 2020 suggests that on-screen ageism persists and is particularly evident among on-screen women aged 50+. Just 1 in 4 characters who are 50+ are women, a serious inequality in the representation of older adults in film and television. Moreover, 50+ women who are on-screen are commonly cast in supporting and minor roles and are less likely to be developed as characters in interesting ways.

Given the lack of equitable and authentic representation of older adults in popular American film and television (especially women 50+), and the public’s desire for change, we encourage entertainment media to actively seek out and invest in stories that fully capture the diversity of older Americans and better illustrate the full scope of their lived experiences. The data presented here pinpoints where the Industry falls short, but also identifies areas where significant progress has been made. But by highlighting persistent disparities, we aim to continue to push the needle forward by promoting accountability and encouraging innovation.

Consumers of Entertainment Media Want More Authentic Representation

42% of respondents 18 to 49 said they are very satisfied with the accuracy of characters who portray their age group, compared to only 25% of respondents 50+.

Stereotypes Are Evident in Entertainment Media

83% of both men and women 50+ agree with the statement “sometimes I feel the media/culture doesn’t realize how much they stereotype older people.”

Older Characters Are Missing

Characters 50+ are less than a quarter of all characters in top-grossing domestic films and most-popular television shows, from 2010 to 2020.

Women 50+ Are Hardly Seen

Among characters 50+, men are far more common on screen than women; of all 50+ characters, men are 4 out of 5 in film, 3 out of 4 in broadcast television, and 2 out of 3 in streaming television.

Older Characters who are LGBTQIA+ Are Most Visible in Top Streaming Shows

From 2010-2020, on average 4% of 50+ characters were LGBTQIA+ in top streaming shows, compared to 0% in top films and 1% in broadcast television.

Disabled 50+ Characters Are Rarely Shown

From 2010 to 2020, on average, the share of 50+ characters with a cognitive, physical or mental disability in top streaming shows was 1%, compared to 5% in film and 5% in broadcast.

Older Characters Are Villains, Not Heroes

Popular films and television shows are more likely to have 50+ characters who are villains than heroes — 59.0% of films have a 50+ character who is a villain, but only 30.0% have a 50+ character who is a hero; 43.2% of the television shows have a 50+ character who is a villain, but only 22.1% have a 50+ hero.

Romantic Storylines Are Uncommon For 50+ Characters

Younger characters are far more likely to have a romantic storyline than characters 50+; depending on the year, characters 49 and under are two to three times as likely to have a romantic storyline than characters 50+.

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