Drawing Girl Power in the Sciences


WASHINGTON, D.C. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — American women have been gaining ground in science fields since the 1960’s and new research suggests stereotypes surrounding people working in science is changing, especially among kids.

From women inventors in Marvel’s Black Panther to female scientists in kids’ magazines, the way media portrays scientists has been steadily changing. The change is a good thing says psychologist David Miller, PhD, with American Institutes for Research. Miller wanted to know if gender stereotypes about scientists had changed over the past five decades. Miller and his colleagues looked at 78 studies that asked American kids in kindergarten through high school to draw a scientist.

“Then from what you get back you can tell the gender of the scientist based on cues such as hair length and attire,” Miller told Ivanhoe.

In the original study from the sixties and seventies, less than one percent of the children drew women. By 2016 that percentage averaged 34 percent. Researchers also wanted to know at what age the kids developed stereotypes. They found kindergartners were just as likely to draw women as men.

“During those ages from five to ten that’s really when they start to develop those associations,” said Miller.

However, by the time students were in high school, roughly 75 percent of the drawings were of men. Miller said the research suggests parents and educators should be aware that science stereotypes start to develop in elementary school. Parents can point out real women in the sciences and females portrayed as scientists in books and media.

Miller said earlier research suggests that kids might limit their career choices based on societal views and so it’s important to present children with diverse examples of scientists.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, News Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.