In a post on the New York Times Well Family blog, the authors of a study about gender stereotypes explain their findings, published today in Science: Young girls do not perceive themselves as smart as boys — after a certain point.
Before the age of 6, the researchers found, “boys and girls were equally likely to associate intelligence with their own gender.” For one part of the study, boys and girls were told a story about a smart person without knowing the person’s gender; 5-year-old boys were likely to guess the story was about a boy, while 5-year-old girls were likely to guess the story was about a girl. But the results shifted when the researchers conducted the same study with 6-year-olds: The girls, older than their counterparts by just one year, were less likely to guess the mystery character was a girl. The boys, however, continued to guess the character was a boy.
How might these early associations manifest? From the Times:
In later life, these differences in children’s perceptions are likely to be consequential. In fact, in a paper we published in the journal Science in 2015, we found that women are underrepresented in fields thought to require brilliance — fields that include some of the most prestigious careers in our society, such as those in science and engineering. It may be that the roots of this underrepresentation stretch all the way back to childhood.
The post concludes with a few research-supported ideas about what we might do to put these stereotypes to rest, including holding trying in higher esteem than innate ability and increasing the visibility of female role models. My favorite was the last: “One study even suggested that witnessing a more equal distribution of household chores could help balance the career aspirations of boys and girls.”