How quickly gender stereotypes about work emerge

For some time there have been campaigns to make the toys children play with better reflect the modern world, especially in terms of the roles depicted. Girls are encouraged to play with building toys, boys with dolls, etc. However, new research from the University of Sussex highlights how difficult these stereotypes are to change in children, especially boys.

The study suggests that girls tend to exaggerate their gendered voices to imitate workers in various professions until around the age of seven, but boys tend to continue past that age, while still using overtly masculine voices even when impersonating workers in neutral roles. .

In traditional experiments around gender stereotypes, there is a fear that participants will say what they think is expected of them rather than their true thoughts. The researchers tried to circumvent this problem by tapping into children’s unconscious stereotypes and asking them to speak in the voices of people with various professions.

gender stereotypes

Research from the University of Houston shows that children as young as 6 also tend to develop ideas that girls are less interested in subjects such as engineering and computer science than boys. Researchers say these stereotypes carry over into our teenage years and are likely to contribute to the gender gap that is evident in STEM-related courses in college and later careers.

“Gender bias stereotypes that STEM is for boys start in elementary school, and by the time they reach high school, many girls have made the decision not to pursue computer science and engineering. because they feel like they don’t belong,” they explain.

The findings emerged from four studies that combined surveys and experiments to try to capture the beliefs of a diverse group of children in grades 1-12.

How stereotypes emerge

The researchers wanted to build on previous studies that explored how ability stereotypes emerge, with a particular focus on how we think about who likes particular subjects as well as who is good at them. They wanted to better understand how these stereotypes affect children’s sense of belonging or willingness to participate in matters.

The researchers cite data from 2019 highlighting the lack of female representation in STEM careers, with only 25% of computer scientists and 1% of engineers being women. To explore how stereotypes underlie these statistics, researchers surveyed more than 2,200 children to explore their beliefs in both computer science and engineering. The surveys were designed to use phrases children know from school.

The data showed that just over half of children thought girls were less interested in IT than boys, with that figure rising to 63% for interest in engineering. In contrast, only 14% thought girls were more interested in IT than boys, and only 9% thought so for engineering.

The initial survey was followed by laboratory studies, which asked the children to choose between two different activities. This experiment showed that girls were slightly less interested in computing when they were also told that boys were more interested than girls than when they were told that interest was equal between the sexes.

“Major surveys told us that children had absorbed the cultural stereotype that girls are less interested in computing and engineering. In the experiments, we focused on the causal mechanisms and consequences of stereotypes” , explain the researchers.

“We found that labeling an activity stereotypically influenced children’s interest in it and their willingness to take it home – the mere presence of the stereotype influenced children dramatically. It made us realize the pernicious effect of stereotypes on children and adolescents.

This is important because if girls don’t think they belong, it discourages them from pursuing courses or careers in engineering or IT, which will worsen the gender gap in STEM-related subjects. .

“Current gender disparities in computer science and engineering careers are troubling, as these careers are lucrative, enjoy high status, and influence many aspects of our daily lives. The lack of gender and racial diversity in these areas may be one of the reasons why many products and services have had negative consequences for women and people of color,” the researchers continue.

doing science

A recent study from New York and Princeton universities suggests an alternative approach that could help improve the numbers. It reveals that children are much more convinced that they can “do science” than they are that they can “be scientists”.

Moreover, this belief carried over into their view of adults, as they believed that many more adults were capable of doing science than they realized. This suggests that young people generally have a fairly inclusive view of who can do science while having stereotypes about who can be a scientist.

Researchers surveyed more than 300 elementary school children in New York’s Brooklyn and Bronx neighborhoods during the school year. The children reflected the racial makeup of their local community and were evenly split between boys and girls.

“Studying a more diverse population is crucial if we are to understand and ensure efforts to improve science engagement work for all,” the authors explain. “The fact that we see similar effects in children of different backgrounds in these communities suggests that using action-oriented language could be a promising strategy to help large numbers of children stay engaged in Science.”

Focus on actions

The team aimed to test each child’s interest and self-efficacy in science three times during the year. Half of the children were asked if they were keen on becoming scientists and also if they thought they were good at science. The other half was simply asked how good they were at science.

Interestingly, over the school year, children’s confidence and interest in being a scientist generally declined, while their confidence in their scientific abilities generally lasted throughout the year.

They then dug deeper to try to understand what was behind these findings. They asked the children how they see people who do science and how they see those who are scientists. The children were asked to think of all the parents of the other children in their school and to calculate how many of them were scientists or did science. The results suggest that children think that many more people do science than scientists.

“These findings suggest that using identity-driven language with children, such as asking them to ‘be a scientist’, may actually backfire whenever children have reason to wonder. if they are truly part of the group,” the authors explain. . “These reasons for questioning may stem from social stereotypes, such as the belief that few people in a child’s community can become scientists.”

The results suggest that a seemingly insignificant change in the way we talk about science with children can have an impact on maintaining their interest in science and hopefully encouraging more science doing as they age. adult.

Maria D. Ervin