Do gender-based stereotypes discourage girls from pursuing certain fields? - study

A new study shows that girls express less interest in fields that are stereotypically marketed toward boys.

Israeli children in second grade (7 - 8 years old) using computers in a class room during a lesson at the "Janusz Korczak" school  in Jerusalem. May 17, 2011. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/FLASH90)
Israeli children in second grade (7 - 8 years old) using computers in a class room during a lesson at the "Janusz Korczak" school in Jerusalem. May 17, 2011.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/FLASH90)

Gender-based stereotypes can heavily affect the interests of boys and girls in subjects such as computer sciences and engineering, according to a new study.

The peer-reviewed study, which was published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States journal by Allison Master from University of Houston and Andre N. Meltzoff and Sapna Cheryan from University of Washington, included four studies on children ages three to 18.

The first two studies showed that among kids of all ages, more than half believe that Computer Sciences and Engineering are stereotyped as being meant for boys, although less believed that boys are better than girls at the subjects. Girls reported lower interest in computer sciences and engineering, which is believed to stem from a sense of not belonging in these fields.

In the third study, eight-year-old girls were given the choice to complete tasks and take tasks home to complete. The tasks were rejected by girls more when they were marked as stereotypically meant for boys, but the same tasks were accepted when there was no stereotype attached to them.

The fourth study extended the task to boys and found that boys and girls showed equal interest in tasks that were not stereotyped. It also added tasks that were specific to Computer Sciences and revealed that girls were more willing to complete them when they were not stereotyped.

A child sits at the computer (credit: FLICKR)A child sits at the computer (credit: FLICKR)

The study concluded that stereotypes are formed in children from early ages and can cause a disparity in interests between boys and girls as well as the fact that the stereotypes can affect the children's sense of belonging in particular fields.

This could perhaps be improved by managing rhetoric to prevent stereotyping certain subjects and introducing girls to fields that were previously considered as meant for boys at an early age.