Gender stereotypes start in elementary school, a study published today in Science suggests. Though five-year-olds don’t discriminate between genders when deciding whether or not a person is brilliant, six- and seven-year-olds overwhelmingly think men are inherently smarter than women. At the same time, the children included in the study also believed that girls receive better grades in school.The reinforcement of these ideas could lead women to be less ambitious than men once it’s time to choose a career, the study claims.
In one part of the study, five-year-olds were told a story about “a really, really smart person” and then asked to guess who the person was, based on two photos. One photo showed a woman, and the other showed a man. Aside from the gender, the pictures were nearly identical, and the five-year-olds generally identified their own gender. But six- and seven year-old girls answering the same question were “significantly less likely” to chose the female photo, reports Bloomberg.
Another section of the study introduced children to two board games: one for kids who are “really, really smart” and another for kids who try “really, really hard.” Both five-year-old boys and girls were interested in playing the game for smart kids; but while the older boys continued to want to play that game, older girls preferred the game for people who tried hard.
Rebecca S. Bigler, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, told the Associated Press that one possible reason for this is exposure in early grades to history’s luminaries,who are mostly men. “We need to explain to children that laws were created specifically to prevent women from becoming great scientists, artists, composers, writers, explorers, and leaders,” Bigler said. “Children will then be … more likely to believe in their own intellectual potential.”