If you asked a child to draw a picture of a scientist fifty years ago, they would draw a picture of a man almost 100% of the time. Fast forward to now and children are doodling women in this role one third of the time. What exactly has changed a child’s mind and how do we keep the ratio of women scientists growing?
CNN reports about a new study, published in the journal Child Development, that looks at how children and society’s idea of science and gender roles has changed over the last 5 decades. The study looks at data from some 20,000 children during the years 1966 through 2016 and clearly shows an uptick in the amount of women depicted in media and subsequently, children’s drawings.
Over the decades we have seen a dramatic change in the way media depicts female scientists. Back in the 1960’s, the popular kid’s magazine Highlights only showed 13% of scientists as women and now that same magazine has a ratio of about 44% women scientists. We have also seen family friendly movies like Hidden Figures tell the story of influential women in science. Lead author of the study David I. Miller explains, “Children are picking up ideas from what they see.”
And in real life, we see more women than ever before earning degrees in science. The research from the study shows that since the 1960’s, women employed in biological sciences has risen from 28% to 49%, careers in chemistry are up from 8% to 35% women and physics and astronomy saw from 3% to today’s 11%. Though these numbers are inspiring and on the rise, as children get older they are better able to grasp the ongoing disparities. Scientists working on the study noted that as children reached high school age, they became more likely to depict men as scientists. The study explains, “During elementary and middle school, the tendency to draw male scientists increased rapidly with age. When children started high school at ages 14-15, they drew more male than female scientists by an average ratio of 4-to1.”
What do you think of this study that suggests more children are drawing women as scientists now than they were 50 years ago?
Do you think depictions of women as scientists on TV and in movies helps children think of science as a more woman-friendly career choice than it used to be?