Saturday 11 November 2023

Dear Child, Draw A Scientist!

When, from 1966 to 1977, about 5,000 elementary school students from the United States and Canada were asked to draw a scientist, only 0.6% (28 children) of the sample drew a female scientist. All the others drew the then stereotypical male scientist with lab coat, eyeglasses and facial hair. Fast forward  2018: A meta-analysis (based on 78 studies, n=20,860) spanning five decades examined gender-science stereotypes prevailing in the United States. 

Results show that children's depictions of scientists has become more gender diverse over time. The tendency to draw male scientists decreased over historical time but increased with children's age.  

One concern about cross-sectional age comparisons is the confound with birth cohort (e.g., 8-year-olds in 2010 were born later in time than 14-year-olds in 2010). For instance, younger children might have drawn fewer male scientists than older children in the same data collection year because younger children were born and grew up later in historical time. In other words, the estimated effect of age might not represent developmental change but instead a confound with birth cohort. However, this alternative explanation was unlikely because the magnitude of the age effect was much greater than the historical time effect (...). In other words, change over age happened more rapidly than what historical change would alone predict. These results were therefore consistent with rapid change over children's development in addition to slower change over historical time.

In the study carried out from 1966 to 1977, 99,4% of children drew scientists as male. The percentage dropped to 72% in later studies (1985 to 2016). Both girls and boys drew male scientists less often in later decades compared to earlier ones (e.g. girls drew 98,8% of scientists as male in earlier vs 55% in later studies) (Miller et al., 2018).

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- Miller, D. I., Nolla, K. M., Eagly, A. H. & Uttal, D. H. (2018). The Development of Children's Gender-Science Stereotypes: A Meta-analysis of 5 Decades of U.S. Draw-A-Scientist Studies. Child Development, 89(6), 1943-1955.
- photograph by Tish Murtha (UK, 1970s) via