Why should we care that, in Hollywood, female actors earn less than male ones?
The latest tally of star pay, compiled by Forbes magazine, has men far outstripping women’s earnings. The highest paid woman – Emma Stone – makes her appearance at number 15, earning US$42m (AUD$52.8m) less than the highest paid man, Mark Wahlberg.
It's easy to be dazzled or disgusted by the huge numbers on the Forbes list and click onto another story about Hollywood stars, without realising the implications of the pay disparity on display. "Men earn more at work than women" has been the most familiar story across industrialised economies for generations.
But the Forbes list is significant because one of the principal reasons for the worldwide gender pay gap is occupational segregation: women and men are still largely concentrated in different jobs or at different levels of the same job. For example, official UK statistics show that women are concentrated in a smaller, lower-paid range of jobs than men, particularly the five "Cs" – caring, catering, cashiering, cleaning and clerical work.
But professional acting is one of the very few jobs that has been done by both men and women for hundreds of years and it has always been commonplace for both to reach the highest level. Acting requires exercise of the same skills in the same workplaces by both men and women. And yet most women actors in the 21st century still earn less than their male counterparts.