Study Finds Major Gender Gap in German Film, TV

Maria Furtwangler
Courtesy of ARD

German women, especially women over 30, are under-represented in fiction, non-fiction and news programming.

The first major study on gender representation in German film and television in more than 20 years has found that little has changed.

Women are sharply under-represented in German media, whether in fiction or on the news, and older women are nearly invisible.

The study, carried out by the philosophy department of the University of Rostock with the support of Germany's major public and commercial television networks, found a sharp gender divide. The analysis of more than 3,000 hours of German TV from 2016, along with more than 800 hours of German-language cinema from the previous six years, looked at the number of women relative to men onscreen and the roles they both play. The study looked not only at fictional representations —TV series and feature films — but also at news and current affairs coverage and non-fictional programming such as entertainment and reality TV shows.

Overall, it found men make up 67 percent of the main protagonists on TV — whether as leads in TV series, news anchors or game show presenters — compared to 33 percent for women. In film, the figures are 58 percent male leads, compared to 42 percent female.

The biggest gender gap is in children's television, where nearly three quarters (72 percent) of all on-air characters, real or fictional, are male, compared to just 28 percent female. Even cartoons are mainly macho, with 87 percent of all talking animals animated by a male voice, the study found.

The only genre, on film or TV, where a true 50-50 gender balance was found, was on daily soaps and telenovelas, where 52 percent of the main characters were female.

Another striking feature was the under-representation of women over the age of 30. In TV series and in film, women and men under 30 are more or less equally represented, but from the mid-30s on, the gender gap widens dramatically. Men in their 40s are twice as likely to play a lead role in a German film or TV series than a woman of equivalent age and men 50 or older are three times as likely to be the star.

The study, released this week, was initiated by German actress Maria Furtwangler, 50, who said it was necessary in order to understand “the enormous power of television and film to transport gender image.” Compared to other European countries, she noted, Germany has until now lacked the concrete data to illustrate the gender gap.