A new study published in the journal Science on January 26, 2017, found that six-year-old girls tend to believe boys are smarter than them. The boys also believed that they are more intelligent than girls. What makes this finding even more interesting is girls believe they are smarter than boys at age five. However, something occurs around the age of six to change their perspective.
Study Discovers That Girls Start Believing Boys Are Smarter Than Them at Age 6
In the study, researchers told children ages 5-7 a story about a main character who was “really really smart,” leaving out any indication of the person’s gender. At the end of the story, they showed the children four pictures, two of whom were women. They asked the infants who they thought the main character was. Five-year-olds tended to gravitate toward their own gender as the protagonist. Girls ages 6-7 chose a male, and boys consistently selected men as the main character.
Researchers then asked the children which type of game they would like playing: one for smart people or one for people who try hard. 6 and 7-year-old girls were less interested in the game for “children who are really really smart.”
400 children participated in the study, and half of them were girls. The 6-year-old female participants picked a male protagonist 52% of the time. In contrast, 6-year old boys chose a female protagonist only 35% of the time. Girls from the study not only believed boys were smarter but acted on that belief as well.
The study was conducted by Lin Bian from the University of Illinois, Sarah-Jane Leslie from Princeton University, and Andrei Cimpian from New York University.
Researchers concluded that the stereotype children pick up on from a young age could be one of the reasons why there are fewer women than men in careers related to fields that “require high intelligence,” such as mathematics, physics, technology, science, and engineering.
Using the Findings of This Research to Help Your Child Succeed in a Career They Love
Gender stereotypes affect parenting from the day a child is born. Girls wear pink, and boys wear blue. Parents may treat little girls more delicately than boys, as well, because men are supposed to be the tough ones.
Some parents even talk about their sons as if they’re smarter than the daughters. It’s not in a direct way, and the parents are often unaware of it, but young children pick up on the subtleties. In the media, you’ll find more male characters portrayed as geniuses than women.
Parents can prevent their little girls from adopting the belief that boys are smarter than them by exposing the girls to more stories starring intelligent women. They can also praise their children for being smart when they get good grades in school.
When helping daughters think about what they want to be when they grow up, don’t rule out careers that society views as for men. Purposely inform daughters of the possibility of going into those fields to let them decide on their own which path they want to take.
75% of American jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are held by men. Careers with lower pay and less prestige tend to have higher percentages of female employees. If we can put an end to the damaging belief that boys are smarter than girls, we will likely see the gender gap balance itself in the workforce.
Not allowing children to experience all possibilities restricts their choices later in life. According to social psychologist Amanda Diekman:
“Students tend to gravitate toward what they enjoy, and what they think they’re good at. By the time people are old enough to start making career-oriented decisions, many experiences and interactions have shaped their interests and what they consider their best skills.”
This study discovered that girls six years old and up are less likely to associate intelligence with women. Although exactly what leads them to believe that at such a young age remains unclear, experts suspect it’s a combination of parenting, the media, and school.
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