Girls' Self-Esteem Is Lower Than Boys By The Age Of Just Six
A new study conducted by researchers at New York University, the University of Illinois, and Princeton University has shown that, by the age of just six, girls are less likely to associate 'brilliance' with their own gender than boys.
The research, published today and led by Lin Bian, of the University of Illinois, and professor of psychology at NYU Andrei Cimpian, shows how gender stereotypes take hold at a frighteningly early age. Bian notes the potentially damaging life-long impact on women:
"Our society tends to associate brilliance with men more than with women, and this notion pushes women away from jobs that are perceived to require brilliance. We wanted to know whether young children also endorse these stereotypes."
Cimpian, the paper's senior author, agrees that the results are significant for young girls and women:
"Even though the stereotype equating brilliance with men doesn't match reality, it might nonetheless take a toll on girls' aspirations and on their eventual careers."
The research team tested children ranging in age from five to seven years. In one experiment, the children were told a story about a person who was 'really, really smart' and were then asked to guess which one of four adults (out of two men and two women) was the story's lead character. They were also asked to guess which adult in a series of paired male-female adults was 'really, really smart.' Although the results demonstrated that both boys and girls aged five viewed their own gender positively, girls aged six and seven were far less likely than boys to associate 'brilliance' with their gender. The results were found to be similar across children from different socioeconomic and racial/ethnic backgrounds.
Another experiment compared five and six-year-old boys' and girls' interest in games for 'smart children'. Again, the results showed no significant differences in interest between five-year-old boys and girls, but by six girls' interest in the activities for smart children was lower than that for boys; a finding that highlights the targeted nature of gender stereotyping.
"In earlier work, we found that adult women were less likely to receive higher degrees in fields thought to require 'brilliance,' and these new findings show that these stereotypes begin to impact girls' choices at a heartbreakingly young age."
Heartbreaking indeed, but more is now being done to encourage young Irish women to pursue a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). The Science Foundation Ireland-supported initiative I WISH are hosting events in Cork and Dublin in the coming months, which will see around four thousand teenage girls meet and engage directly with inspiring women working in a variety of STEM roles in world-renowned companies. The organisation's co-founder, Gillian Keating, says she is delighted with the level of interest in their upcoming conferences and exhibitions:
"We are absolutely thrilled that the events are completely sold out in both Cork and Dublin. This shows the appetite and enthusiasm for STEM events among teachers and students nationwide. In response to the surge in demand for places this year, we have opened a waiting list for schools and hope to accommodate as many as we possibly can."
Dr Ruth Freeman, of the Science Foundation says it is vital that Ireland harnesses the power of the next generation of girls, and connects students with women working in science:
"A science related career is an exciting and rewarding path. Science can change the way we live, work and learn. By providing these vital role models, we are encouraging and inspiring more girls to explore their own STEM career. The fact that both events are now sold out demonstrates an enthusiasm among our teens to become the innovators of tomorrow."
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