Tag Archives: stereotype

Kids and teens believe girls aren’t interested in computer science — and the stereotype drives disparity

Gender stereotypes from different sources influence children from the early years of primary school, making them aspire to “traditional” male and female professional careers, according to a new study. In a new study, researchers found that kids develop ideas that girls are less interested than boys in the fields of computer science and engineering. 

Image credit: Flickr / Nenad

The presence of women varies widely across science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields in the United States. The largest gender disparities are in engineering and computer science, much more than in other fields such as mathematics or biology. In fact, in the US, only about 25% of computer scientists are women. 

Gender disparities in engineering and computer science contribute to many societal inequities, including the existence of products and services that overlook and sometimes selectively harm women and children. Gender disparities in lucrative fields such as computer science and engineering are also a significant source of the gender wage gap in the US.

“There has been a lot of research about the negative consequences of stereotypes about ability (that boys are more talented than girls in math and science), but there has been very little research about stereotypes about interest (that boys are more interested than girls in STEM),” Allison Master, study co-author, told ZME Science. 

Looking into stereotypes

The study was carried out by researchers from the University of Washington and the University of Houston, who used a set of surveys and experiments to detect stereotypes in a group of kids and teens from grades 1 to 12. They wanted to learn how gender stereotypes about who likes sciences can affect the sense of belonging. 

The surveys included a sample of 2,200 participants, who were asked about their beliefs about computer science and engineering. The researchers used terms and phrases familiar to the students, such as “computer coding.” This was followed by lab studies with a smaller sample, who had to choose between their proffered activities. 

“Stereotypes that girls are less interested than boys in computer science and engineering can have negative consequences for girls’ motivation to pursue these fields. The more that girls believe these stereotypes, the less interested they are in entering these fields. Telling girls about these stereotypes can cause them to become less interested,” Master told ZME Science.

The surveys showed that more than half (51%) of the students believed girls are less interested than boys in computer science, with almost two-thirds (65%) arguing that girls are less interested in engineering. On the other hand, only 14% of the children said girls are more interested than boys in computer science and 9% in engineering. 

In fact, when working with the smaller sample in the laboratory, the researchers found that girls were in fact much less interested in computer science when they were told boys were more interested in the field than girls (35% of the girls chose it) – compared to when they were told both boys and girls are equally interested (65% of the girls chose it). 

For Master, the findings have implications for both teachers and parents. “Our own stereotypes about interest may limit the opportunities we give to girls, when we assume that they won’t be interested in computer science or engineering toys or activities,” she argued, adding that something like coding and engineering toys and signing tailored at girls could help tackle some of these stereotypes. 

The study was published in the journal PNAS.

Spacial reasoning gender gap disappears in female-dominant cultures

Currently, only about 30% percent of the total scientific workforce is comprised of female scientists. Thousands of years of cultural discrepancies might be to blame for this, like stereotyping, however in societies where math gender gaps disappears, the gender gap remains in higher education.

In Sweden or Norway, the math gender gap has been bridged, as persons of both sexes manage to score similarly in tests, however even there men seem to show a better spatial reasoning ability. Are men and women hot-wired differently from birth with these terms in mind or are these discrepancies as a result of social engineering? A team of scientists capitalized on a set of perfect natural experiments as part of a recent study published in PNAS looking to answer these questions.

Remarkably, they managed to find two settlements in Northeast India very similar in all the right ways to make the study relevant, but different enough to make a point. Both are very close to one another, both employ an agrarian lifestyle, which renders the same diet and share a very similar DNA , culturally-wise however they’re at opposite poles.

The inhabitants of one of the settlements, the Karbi, are entirely patrilineal: women have no proprietary rights to land and the oldest son in the family inherits everything when the parents die. On the other side of the fence, the Khasi, are matrilineal: men have no rights to own land, and the youngest daughter in the family inherits everything. The researchers couldn’t ask for possibly more from this naturally perfect case study environment.

To test how the two societies scored at spacial reasoning, the scientists introduced the task of solving a simple three-dimensional puzzle that involved four blocks, with portions of a picture on a single face. The subjects would have to identify the correct side of the block, rotate it to the top, and then arrange the pieces to re-form the picture. Whoever could solve the simple task in under 30 seconds was rewarded with the equivalent of a quarter day’s salary – early 1,300 villagers agreed to participate.

In the patrilinial settlement, the Karbi men took 35% less time to perform the task than Karbi women. A very significant different, which almost vanished in the Khasi tribe where no such differences could be encountered in the scores of the two sexes.

Scientists explain that these differences, they claim, are due to cultural differences. Patrilinial men are more likely to receive education, a factor which when taken into account researchers found it accounts for a third of the performance difference. Male ownership of the home also had a large effect; the gender gap is only a third the size in homes that are not owned solely by males.

Other factors like gender competitiveness or inheritance didn’t seem to influence the results too much. As a conclusion to their study, the authors outline that cultural differences might account to spacial reasoning differences, however they disclaim the fact that their work is correlative and should be taken with a grain of salt. The Karbi/Khasi case study only offers a small snapshot of the human diversity spectrum.

PNAS via wired

Girls aren’t good at math: the stereotype

Girls like pink, boys like blue. Girls have long hair, boys have short hair. And so on, so on – my mom says this is all common sense, I say this is social programming that propagates stereotypes, and the latest research relating to this is a study called Math–Gender Stereotypes in Elementary-School Children recently published in Child Development that refers to the common stereotype that boys are good at math, whilst girls aren’t. The research introduces the reader with some facts, like the common conception in the US that girl can’t do math found both in grade school children and grown-ups (the study is targeted for the US, but this is a stereotype common all over the world). It is believed that simply because of this there exists an immense gender gap in mathematical related fields and science.

To scientifically test this “assumption”, researchers used “implicit stereotype” theory, that is to say they tried children with simple tests to assess their conceptions unconsciously, as opposed to “explicit stereotypes” if they would have just asked children whether they believed girls can’t do math. What they used to test their theory was the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which measures how much we associate concepts without knowing, or without being explicitly aware that we do, such as associating “math” with “boys”.

More explicitly, this is in short how the experiment was conducted: children were put in front of a computer screen where two columns were displayed – boys | girls. In the first part of the test the children were presented with names, which they had to align to each column appropriately, this was the warm-up. Then they were presented with two different columns – MATH | READING – in which children were asked to sort the terms appropriately (addition, number, math, read, book, letters). Then for the last last test, children had to complete it in two condition. In the first condition, they were asked to sort on the BOYS column all the math and boy names related terms, while on the GIRLS column all the reading and girl names related terms. Then in the second instance they had to do it vice-versa.

Results were compared, and researchers found that in the first instance children completed the test a lot faster than in the second instance. The idea behind the IAT test is exactly this – because of the implicit stereotype boys could easily sort math to boys, but at the same time they had a tougher time sorting them the other way around, because confusion arose. Here’s a graph below detailing the results.

What’s important to note that both boys and girls performed more or less the same, proving that it was easier for both gender to identify “math” to “boys” as opposed to “math” and “girls”. What’s maybe even more important to note is that researchers have concluded that this effect was noticeable starting from an early age as the 1st or 2nd grade, but it’s probably far more earlier. This suggests that the stereotype is not simply a reflection of actual performance but comes from socialization process that starts very early.