Study: Women have fewer roles on TV

A new study paints a discouraging picture for women on television.

In the 2015-16 TV season, 79% of series had more male than female characters, according to Boxed In, an annual report by San Diego State University's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. Five percent featured casts with an equal number of men and women, while a mere 16% had ensembles with more female characters than male.

Overall, the number of female characters on broadcast network shows was down slightly from a year ago (41% in 2015-16, compared to 42% in 2014-15). The number of women was even lower elsewhere, comprising only 33% of all characters on cable and 38% on streaming (down from 40% for both a year ago). Across platforms, women made up just 39% of all speaking roles.

The nature of the characters they played is worrisome, too, the study's authors say. Nine percent of male characters were portrayed as leaders, while only 5% of female characters were. Women were also more frequently younger than their male counterparts, more often identified by their martial status, and less likely to be seen at work.

And there was an even greater divide behind the camera. In the last year, 26% of creators, directors, writers, producers, editors, and directors of photography on broadcast network, cable and streaming series were women, a figure that's unchanged from the 2006-07 TV season.

Ninety-one percent of shows across platforms employed no women directors, 76% had no women creators and 71% no female writers. Series with at least one female creator tended to have more speaking roles for women (45%, compared to just 36% on shows exclusively created by men).

There were some minor strides in racial and ethnic diversity. The number of black female characters climbed to a record 17% (up 2 percentage points from the year before). Latina characters rose from 3% to 5% of the total, while Asian women also comprised 5% of all characters (up from 4%). Although 71% of all female characters on broadcast networks are white, that's still more diverse than cable and streaming shows.

Now in its 19th year, the Boxed In report examines a randomly selected episode of each show on broadcast and cable networks and streaming services. Between September 2015 and May 2016, the study tracked just over 3,500 characters and nearly 3,600 behind-the-scenes credits.

USA TODAY


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