Why the ‘Oscar curse’ may be real

"Our results emphasize an important conundrum for male actors," says Michael Jensen. "Oscar nominations/wins can help a career but can also ruin a marriage." (Credit: Rick/Flickr)

There may be some truth to the alleged “Oscar curse,” a pattern that suggests Academy Award winners are destined for misfortune after they win the gold statue.

But there’s a twist: “the curse” seems to be more personal than professional, at least for men, a new analysis suggests.

Sudden positive status shifts—such as winning an Oscar—can have unintended negative consequences, says Michael Jensen, a strategy professor at University of Michigan.

Divorce rates

The Oscar curse goes back to the 1930s and Hollywood’s golden age. Luise Rainer, the first actor to win multiple Oscars, blamed her wins for The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and The Good Earth (1937) for the rapid decline of her career.

However, a new study published in the journal Organization Science finds no evidence of negative professional consequences for male or female actors. In fact, Oscar winners appear, on average, in more films following their wins than Oscar nominees and other actors.

“The professional Oscar curse is, in other words, only a Hollywood myth,” Jensen says. “The personal consequences of the Oscars are different.”


The researchers looked at overall divorce rates of Oscar winners and nominees, and found that they weren’t all that different from other actors.

But they did find that male actors who won an Oscar were three times as likely (and nominees were twice as likely) as other male actors to divorce during their first year of marriage.

Female Oscar winners and nominees were much less likely to divorce than other female actors.

Jensen and coauthor Heeyon Kim of the National University of Singapore examined all actors who played lead roles in 1,023 top commercial and top artistic films from 1930 to 2005—a sample of 808 actors that included 165 Oscar winners and 227 Oscar nominees who did not win.

They analyzed male and female elite actors separately because the labor markets and Oscar success criteria for male and female screen actors are different.

“Our results emphasize an important conundrum for male actors—Oscar nominations/wins can help a career but can also ruin a marriage,” Jensen says.

Other noteworthy findings:

  • There are fewer roles for female actors than male actors.
  • Married male actors participate in more movies than divorced male actors, but divorced female actors participate in more movies than married female actors.
  • Hollywood is not ready for female action heroes: Specializing in action films increases movie participation for male actors but decreases movie participation for female actors.
  • Male action heroes are more likely to divorce: Specializing in action films increases the divorce rate of male actors, but not the divorce rate of female actors.
  • Male actors, but not female actors, are more likely to divorce if their spouse is nominated for or wins an Oscar.

Source: University of Michigan