When asked to draw a scientist, children often reproduce common stereotypes about who scientists are and what they do. However, new research, which I led, shows that these stereotypes have changed over time, at least within the United States. My study, which was published March 20 in Child Development, finds that U.S. children now draw female scientists more often than ever before.
In the 1960s and 1970s, one landmark study asked nearly 5,000 elementary school children to draw a scientist. Their artwork almost exclusively depicted men, often with lab coats, working indoors with lab equipment. Of those nearly 5,000 drawings, only 28 depicted a female scientist, which were all drawn by girls. Not a single boy drew a woman.
Those findings were striking to me. But they also made me wonder: how have children’s stereotypes changed over time? Women have made substantial gains in educational attainment and employment since the 1960s, especially in science fields. For instance, women earned 19 percent of U.S. chemistry bachelor’s degrees in 1966, compared to 48 percent in 2015.
Female scientists are also now more often depicted in children’s media. One content analysis found evidence for this change in the popular magazine Highlights for Children. Women and girls were 13 percent of images of people in the magazine’s science feature stories in the 1960s, compared to 44 percent in the 2000s. Other research has found that women and girls were 42 percent of scientist characters in popular children’s television programs in 2006.
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