Ashton Kutcher & TV's Highest-Paid Actor List Proves There's Still a Gender Wage Gap in Television

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Apparently, the gender wage gap even applies to celebrities, but it's not quite as unequal as you might think. Forbes released its list of TV's highest paid actors lead by Two and a Half Men's Ashton Kutcher, following last month's list of the highest paid actresses, which featured Modern Family's Sofia Vergara at the top. There's a lot to be learned from the two lists—besides the fact that the men of Two and a Half Men are really overpaid. 

Between the two top earners, Vergara actually made more between June 2012 and June 2013 than Kutcher. As the highest earning TV actress, she pulled in $30 million thanks to her yelling things on Modern Family and having both English and Spanish endorsement deals. Kutcher only earned $24 million, between his sitcom, Jobs and investments. 

While it seems like a good sign that the highest paid TV actress earns more than the highest paid TV actor, that's really where it ends. Combined, the 10 highest paid TV actors make $146 million, while their female counterparts (and costars) earned only $119 million. When you break it down into an average salary, men earned $14.6 million, while women earned $11.9 million. At almost 82 cents for every dollar the male actors make, TV actresses are doing just slightly better than the average American woman, who makes 77 cents for every dollar that a man does. 

No, it's not fair and there is a clear divide, but TV is a complicated industry and some of the numbers aren't as bad as they seem. The biggest difference between the earnings of TV stars comes between the first two people on the list. For TV actresses, the second highest earning actress, The Big Bang Theory's Kaley Cuoco, makes only $11 million to Vergara's $30 million. For men however, second place is much closer, with Kutcher's Two and a Half Men costar Jon Cryer earned only $3 million less with $21 million. 

The trend follows for most of the list, as all of the women in the top ten, besides Vergaramake between $9 million and $11 million, while the male range is more equally segmented between $10 and $24 million. But when you really analyze the list, it starts to make sense. 

Consider the highest earning men, Kutcher and Cryer. For some reasons I will never understand, Two and a Half Men was one the most popular sitcoms in America for years. It makes a lot of money, so it's stars earn a lot of money. Even Angus T. Jones made the Forbes list, coming in at number eight with $11 million.  The Big Bang Theory has started to overtake it in the ratings, but only in the past two years. Two and a Half Men also has about three more years of syndication earnings than Big Bang

So Cuoco may make less than Cryer and Kutcher, but her show has become more profitable in recent years and she has significantly less syndication. It's also worth noting that none of the male Big Bang Theory stars are even in the top 10. 

The cast of How I Met Your Mother also serves as a telling example. Neil Patrick Harris is the fourth highest earning TV actor with a total of $15 million, while his HIMYM costars Cobie Smulders and Alyson Hannigan are the eleventh and twelfth highest earning actresses (thanks to a large fourth place tie), with $9 million and $8 million, respectively. 

So why does Harris make more than his costars? To start, his character Barney Stintson is hugely popular and it makes sense that his performance would earn a bigger paycheck, since it draws a large crowd. And that total earnings isn't just from HIMYM, Harris also added to his total with his various hosting jobs and The Smurfs 2. It puts his higher total compared to Hannigan and Smulders in perspective, especially when you consider the fact that HIMYM's other male stars, Jason Segel and Josh Radnor, aren't on the list at all. 

So these lists aren't quite as unequal as they seem. There's still progress that needs to be made and more female-lead TV shows would be a great place to start, but it's definitely not a lost cause. Actually, based on these numbers its actors and actresses from cable TV that should be fighting for equality. 

Shows like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead have pulled in better numbers than many broadcast shows, but none of their actors or actresses can be found on the high earners list. I think we all hope to someday live in a world where Bryan Cranston makes more than Jon Cryer. 


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