By age six, children associate intelligence more with men than with women. As the problem starts at the beginning, the solution must alsoby Jessica Abrahams / February 6, 2017 / Leave a comment
Last week, a study was published suggesting that children have absorbed negative gender stereotypes by the age of six. Researchers found that by this time children were already associating intelligence with men more than with women.
The study, which was conducted by researchers from three US universities and written up in the journal Science, involved a series of tests on a group of 400 children. In one test, for example, the children were read a story about a highly intelligent person and asked to guess the character’s sex; in another, they were asked to match traits with images of men and women. The results showed that the youngest children associate intelligence more with their own sex than with the opposite sex but that by the age of six girls are beginning to associate it more with men. The girls did associate their own sex with achieving good grades but attributed this to hard work rather than innate intelligence. Girls of this age were also less willing to play games advertised as requiring high levels of intelligence, but were willing to play the same game when told it simply required hard work. Although this was a relatively small scale study, academics noted that the findings fit with previous research.
Consider the influences on children. Campaigns such as Let Toys Be Toys have shown how frequently children’s products participate in gender stereotyping. Followers of the campaign, many of whom are parents, constantly draw attention to toys and children’s clothes that perpetuate these ideas—such as a set of books which advises girls on “How to be gorgeous” and boys on “How to be clever,” or a play set called “It’s girl stuff!” featuring a doll with a bucket and mop. The same is true of cartoons, which overwhelmingly have male protagonists. Research has shown that there are three times as many male characters in children’s films as female ones, and that those female characters tend to adhere to gendered stereotypes.
These are issues in products designed specifically for children that are merely a reflection of stereotypes that exist in society more widely, and the myriad signals from all kinds of sources that children are exposed to every day. For example, previous studies have found that teachers underestimate girls’ ability in maths and tend to attribute strong performance in…