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From Frankie Muniz to Miley Cyrus, child stars in hit movies and TV shows have been known to rake in the cash. The famous, highly paid stars are the exception in child acting, however. Most child actors work in local productions, commercials or video and are paid far less money. Still, if the child enjoys the work, acting gigs beat lemonade stands even if the child doesn't make it to the big time.
How much child actors get paid depends on where they're working, budgets and how successful the movie or show becomes.
Child actors are those who are infants to age 18, according to state child labor laws. Though you're probably most familiar with the famous names in movies and television shows, child actors also act in commercials, videos, voice recordings and local stage productions. Like adult-aged actors, child actors typically attend rehearsals leading up to the actual show or filming. Rehearsals may occur several times weekly at first, increasing to daily as show dates approach.
Child actors also must spend a portion of the day on schoolwork, usually work given by their local school or home-school curriculum and overseen by a tutor on the set. They're also required to have breaks where the child must be given rest time, recreation time and meal time.
Education Requirements, Training and Laws
There is no specific education or training required to be a child actor. Many do take acting lessons, though, as well as voice lessons and dance lessons to help them land more jobs. Local theater companies, conservatories, recreation centers and colleges may have acting classes and workshops for child actors. Drama camps are also popular during summers and breaks.
Every state has laws that govern how much time a child actor is permitted to work, however. In California, where the entertainment industry employs many child actors, the law states both how long child actors can act per day and how long they can be at the place of employment. For example:
- Infants <6 months: can be at work 2 hours maximum, acting 20 minutes/day maximum and only between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. or 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
- Age 6 months to 2 years: can be at work 4 hours maximum, acting 2 hours/day maximum
- 2 to 6 years: can be at work 6 hours maximum, acting 3 hours/day maximum
- 6 to 9 years: can be at work 8 hours maximum, acting 4 hours/day maximum during the school year and 6 hours/day maximum during school breaks
- 9 to 16 years: can be at work 9 hours maximum, acting 5 hours/day maximum during the school year and 7 hours/day maximum during school breaks
- 16 to 18 years: can be at work 10 hours maximum, acting 6 hours/day maximum during the school year and 8 hours/day maximum during school breaks
Being a child actor can be stressful even when the child enjoys the work. There are continuous auditions and the disappointment of not getting a job. When they are hired, they may be required to stand in one place for long periods, work outdoors in inclement weather and rehearse the same scenes again and again under hot lights. Their short attention spans and still-developing levels of patience may make it difficult for children to remain focused.
The nature of acting is that employment is fleeting. Actors of all ages could be hired for just one day or for several months. Therefore, child actors have to become accustomed to new faces, personalities, environments and ways of working with each job they take. Children who work in touring shows must also acclimate to constant travel and living out of a suitcase.
Years of Experience and Salary
How much child actors get paid depends on where they're working, budgets and how successful the movie or show becomes. For example, Frankie Muniz went from earning $30,000 per episode of "Malcolm in the Middle" in 2000 to $120,000 in 2006 as the show and his stardom took off. Some other child actors who made big bucks are:
- Miley Cyrus: $15,000 per episode of "Hannah Montana"
- Miranda Cosgrove: $180,000 per episode by 2012 as the star of "iCarly"
- Angus T. Jones: $300,000 per episode in 2010 at age 17 for playing Jake Harper in "Two and a Half Men"
- Rico Rodriguez and Nolan Gould of "Modern Family" made $100,000 per episode in 2017 at age 18
On the other hand, the kids in the movie "It" were paid on the SAG-AFTRA scale (formerly the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), which is between $1,166 and $3,403 weekly in 2018 depending on the film's budget. For half-hour, episodic television shows, the minimum salary is $5,258 per week for a major role. For TV commercials, pay is between $618 and $1,037 per commercial for on-camera work and between $412 and $720 for off-camera, voice-only work.
Actors of all ages had a median salary of $17.49 an hour in May 2017. Median salaries are the point in a list where half earned more and half earned less. At the low end, actors made $8.97 an hour or less and at the high end, $89.08 an hour or more.
Job Growth Trend
Employment for actors is expected to grow 12 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Work at smaller, local theaters may decline due to budget cuts and lack of funding, but work for online ventures like Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services is expected to increase.
- The Hollywood Reporter: Hollywood's Salary Report 2017: Movie Stars to Makeup Artists to Boom Operators
- Seventeen: How Much Money Do Disney Channel Stars Actually Make?
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Actors
- PayScale: Average Actor/Actress Salary
- Business Insider: 9 of the Highest Paid Child TV Stars of All Time – and Their Reported Salaries
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Child Entertainment Laws as of January 1, 2018
- Employment Law Handbook: California Child Labor Laws – Entertainment Industry
- ABS Payroll: SAG Rates 2018
Barbara Bean-Mellinger is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area who has written about careers and education for work.chron.com, workingmother.com, classroom.synonym.com and more. Barbara holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh and has won numerous awards for her writing.