USA kids' doodles of scientists reveal changing gender stereotypes

This drawing of a male scientist was part of the nearly 5,000 entered in a draw-a-scientist survey in 1966-77

Ask a child to draw a scientist, and she's more likely than ever to draw a woman.

Researchers at Northwestern University in the USA examined the results of 78 studies, which together involved more than 20,000 United States children. When they got to elementary and middle school, they began drawing significantly more male scientists, which reflects "a developmental shift that we think likely reflects children's greater exposure to male scientists as they age", Miller said. That's according to a new study in Child Development. Between 1966 and 1977, the paper says, less than 1 percent of USA kids chose to draw a female scientist when prompted to draw a scientist.

"Draw-A-Scientist" literature is based on what children produce when they are asked to create an illustration of their idea of a scientist.

The study also found that children did not draw significantly more male than female scientists until ages 7-8; in kindergarten, they drew approximately equal percentages of male and female scientists.

In conducting their meta-analysis of USA children's gender-science stereotypes linking science with men, the researchers hypothesized that these stereotypes would weaken over time as women's representation in science grew stronger and media increasingly depicted females as scientists.

'This change suggests that children's stereotypes linking science with men have weakened over time.consistent with more women becoming scientists and children's media depicting more female scientists on television shows, magazines and other media, ' the new analysis said.

Additionally, just 26 percent of women who have STEM degrees hold STEM jobs, while the corresponding figure for men is 40 percent.

Dr Miller said: "Given this change in stereotypes, girls in recent years might now develop interests in science more freely than before. Have children's stereotypes changed along with them?" says David Miller, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Northwestern University and one of the study's authors. "What's important to consider is making sure those stereotypes don't unfairly limit girls' interest in science - that girls who are really interested in science can pursue it". The studies included more than 20,000 children in kindergarten through 12th grade. They say it is vital to carry on showing children examples of scientists of both genders.

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