Fame And (79 Percent Of The) Fortune: The Celebrity Gender Pay Gap

The stars are, in fact, just like us.
09/28/2016 01:55 pm ET Updated Sep 29, 2016
Singer Taylor Swift attends the 64th Annual BMI Pop Awards at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on May 10, 2016 in Beve
Jon Kopaloff via Getty Images
Singer Taylor Swift attends the 64th Annual BMI Pop Awards at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on May 10, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California

Regardless of your age, geographic location or musical taste, you get a good dose of Taylor Swift. She’s a global icon on radio, TV, social media, magazines and billboards. From the Super Bowl to the World Cup, the Oscars to Oscar de la Renta, Swift grabs the headlines.

Between her 1989 World Tour and endorsement deals with brands like Apple, Diet Coke and Keds, the singer is crushing it in the business world. Forbes recently released its annual list of the 100 highest paid celebrities and unsurprisingly, Swift took the top spot with earnings of a cool $170 million over the past 12 months.

In light of the oft-debated discussion around the gender wage gap in the United States, are Swift’s earnings indicative of a trend toward gender equality? Could that gap be closing? Men seem to think so. According to our weekly SurveyMonkey | NBC News poll, over 50 percent of men — particularly white men — believe society has reached the point where men and women have equal opportunities for achievement. We were curious to see if the data would corroborate this belief.

Of the top 20 earners [on the Forbes 100 list], only five are women. Of the 100 names on the list, female celebrities account for a mere 15 spots.

We analyzed the Forbes 100 list and found Swift emerges as an anomaly. Of the top 20 earners, only five are women. Of the 100 names on the list, female celebrities account for a mere 15 spots. It’s even worse in sports. While athletes appear on the list more than any other profession, it’s also the category that doesn’t have a single female name. Serena Williams’ 2016 victory at Wimbledon makes her the winningest player in major singles, doubles and mixed doubles of any active player, regardless of gender. But it doesn’t get her on the list of top paid athletes...despite the fact Nike recently ran an ad campaign proclaiming her the greatest female athlete of all time! Trophies build legacies but endorsement deals bring in the money. Serena trails names like Gareth Bale (#77), Fernando Alonso (#75) and Sebastian Vettel (#63) — all international athletes who are largely unfamiliar to those of us in the United States.

Celebrities rarely get pity from the general population, but the lack of women on the highest paid list highlights a broader problem in how we pay and value women.

We did an analysis of drivers of celebrity status and developed a comprehensive ranking called SurveyMonkey Measures: Celebrity. This rank measures the qualities, both positive and negative, that contribute to celebrity and gives the top spot to TV personality Ellen DeGeneres, who shoots up from #13 in the Forbes list. In addition to being named the celebrity people would most like to trade lives with for a day and the one who contributes most to society, she took top honors in two categories that would serve anyone well: most respected and most business savvy.

According to our findings, Americans seem to value women more than some of the men on the list — moving Adele and Madonna up along with DeGeneres and Swift as part of their top 10 overall most valued celebrities. Given that only Taylor Swift and Adele cracked the top 10 in Forbes’ list, in terms of overall value, our results double the female representation.

We have a lot of work to do in a society where someone has to work all year to earn what the guy next to her makes by the end of July.

And the top three most overpaid? All were men: Lebron James, Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Phil McGraw.

And when you pull back and look at the data, the stars, are in fact, just like us. The average American woman? She makes 79 cents for every dollar paid to a man, according to The Census Bureau. More distressingly, African-American women earn approximately 59.8 cents for every dollar her white male counterpart earns. We have a lot of work to do in a society where someone has to work all year to earn what the guy next to her makes by the end of July.

The gender pay gap is an issue that affects workers in virtually every industry, including the world’s most visible women. And unfortunately, our data reveals that many people still seem to believe that women getting paid less for the same work as men is a thing of the past. We can say with complete certainty, it’s not. So next time you hear Taylor Swift on the radio, don’t just shake it off. Her success is inspirational but a big societal gap still exists between the genders when it comes to contribution and compensation.

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