After spending almost two years preparing the 1987 Hollywood Writers' Report, Denise and William Bielby, both Ph.D.s, were not surprised by "what we found" in the course of their research. What did surprise them, however, was the low-key reception to their report Tuesday at a 75-minute press conference at the Writers Guild of America headquarters in Los Angeles.
"The results (detailing inequities in hiring throughout the industry) are so clear-cut and profound, I think they're numbing to the writing community," Denise Bielby observed after the conference. "Maybe that's why the reaction was so calm. When you think about what we found, it's amazing."
"I don't know what accounts for the subdued reception," added her husband. "We've been in more adversarial situations in academic crowds."
The Bielbys are research specialists in the area of sex segregation in employment. Both are on the teaching staff at UC Santa Barbara, and both have published extensively in this field. The Writers Guild report is their first foray into working in Hollywood. "We're consumers of entertainment," Denise Bielby said. "We know the product this industry produces. We're interested in the forces affecting what we see."
As the basis of their study, the Bielbys used statistics already gathered by the WGA, West, and housed in the guild computer. Detailed employment experience information is provided each quarter to the guild by its active members. The 1987 review covers the experiences of 5,434 writers for the period January, 1982, through December, 1985.
Because of her earlier research work, Denise Bielby said, "We had a sense that white males would be dominant in the industry. We didn't know they would be young white males." Her husband added: "The biggest surprise, however, is that things aren't getting better. In other sectors of the economy, women are catching up with men, minorities are catching up the whites."
The Bielbys' own status at UC Santa Barbara appears to reflect the situation they documented with the writers. William Bielby is a professor in the department of sociology. Denise Bielby is an associate research sociologist and lecturer. "Yep," Denise Bielby noted, "that's all I want to say."
The Bielbys, both 39, met as undergraduates at the University of Illinois. They went on together to get Ph.D.s at the University of Wisconsin--Madison. They have been at UC Santa Barbara for 10 years. They began collaborating on research several years ago and have also taught several small seminars together at UCSB.
"We're not like Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter," Denise Bielby quipped. "We were very autonomous for 10 years. It's a new experience, working together." However, they appear to enjoy the process. "We really complement each other in terms of our skills and the way we work," she said.
"I hate the details of finishing things," William Bielby said. "For Denise, it doesn't go out the door until it's perfect."
"My concern all along has been the design and accessibility of the report," added his wife. "I was adding elements to the report to make the statistics come alive."
They currently have a research grant from the National Science Foundation, studying the work patterns of men and women. As to future work in the entertainment industry, he said "We're available." She added: "We won't be hired by a production company, though."