Kids More Likely than Ever to Draw Scientists as Women

Kids More Likely than Ever to Draw Scientists as Women”

In the 1960s and 1970s, less than 1% of US children's drawings depicted a female scientist.

Think of a scientist: if you were asked to draw that scientist in the 1960s, you nearly certainly drew a male - but a new study shows today's children depict female scientists more often than ever before.

To investigate how children's drawings have changed, a team of psychology researchers combined and analysed the results of 78 "draw-a-scientist" studies that examined doodles made between 1966 and 2016 (see "Sketching scientists"). In the 1980s and later, that percentage had risen to 28.

In studies completed since 1985, accounting for nearly 21,000 kids, about 28% of children drew female scientists, Miller says.

It's not directly asking children to say, 'Is science for men or is it for women?' It's not expressing these explicit stereotypes.

The researchers used literature databases such as Google Scholar to identify 78 studies of U.S. "Draw a Scientist" tests over the last 50 years.

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In the first "Draw-A-Scientist" study, which took place from 1966 to 1977, less than 1 percent of nearly 5,000 children drew a picture resembling a woman.

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. But in studies from 1985 to 2016, 28 percent of children drew a female scientist, on average, with both girls and boys drawing women more often over time. Researchers said that the tendency of children during their middle or elementary school of drawing male scientists was observed to be increased in the previous analysis according to their growing age.

"To build on cultural changes, teachers and parents should present children with multiple examples of female and male scientists across many contexts such as science courses, television shows and informal conversations", Uttal said. "In addition to that, there's some evidence to suggest that female scientists are now more often represented in children's media".

This is in line with increased numbers of women in science, and more depictions of female scientists on TV and in other children's media.

The study was supported by a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship.

"Women are still underrepresented in some fields, so it makes sense that children exposed to that environment are still reproducing those stereotypes", Miller says.

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