Study shines spotlight on Hollywood gender inequality

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As theater-goers munch on popcorn, they may not realize what happens behind the scenes in Hollywood. A new study supports evidence of a gender gap on and off the screen, reports CBS News correspondent Anna Werner.

The University of Southern California examined the 700 top-grossing films between 2007 and 2014 and found that while women make up half of moviegoers, they're still an on-screen minority. In fact, the findings showed the vast majority of movie roles are white, male and heterosexual.

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This year, films by and for women have hit it big at the box office with nearly half of the top 10 grossing films in the U.S. featuring leading ladies.

But according to the study, men still get most of the close-ups.

"I think what's surprising is that all of this hype hasn't really significantly moved the needle," Hollywood Reporter senior writer Rebecca Sun said.

Researchers found that from 2007 to 2014, less than a third of speaking parts in the most popular films were female. And those numbers didn't improve over time.

In fact, in 2014, only 21 of the 100 top movies featured a female lead or co-lead. That's about the same as in 2007.

And not one film last year starred a woman over the age of 45.

It doesn't get much better behind the lens either. Only two of the biggest films in 2014 were directed by women.

"You really have to trace it back to all the way to the top of the chain in terms of who's making these decisions," Sun said.

Even when women are hired for high-profile roles, they often get paid less than their male counterparts.

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Winner for best supporting actress Patricia Arquette accepts her award on stage at the 87th Oscars Feb. 22, 2015, in Hollywood, California. ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier this year, Patricia Arquette devoted much of her Oscar's acceptance speech to equal pay.

"It's our time to have wage equality once and for all," she said.

Three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep spoke to "CBS This Morning" about the issue this week.

"It's not an outrageous request, wage equality. It's just a no-brainer. It should, it should happen," she said.

If the film industry doesn't eventually adjust its focus, it could pay the price.

"The general population is actually growing more diverse and so Hollywood comes the risk of falling more behind and out of touch," Sun said. "That may contribute to people going to the movies less."

The study showed disparities for other groups as well. Of the speaking or named character roles in the top 100 films of 2014, 12.5 percent were black and only 19 total characters were lesbian, gay or bisexual. None were transgender.