A new study conducted at Northwest University has indicated that children in the US are drawing more female scientists than they did in previous decades. In the 1960s and 70s, less than 1% of children who were asked to draw a scientist chose to draw a woman. Over the past 40 years, this figure has risen to 28%. Despite this progress, children are still more likely to depict scientists as male — especially older children, who are more aware of the gender imbalance in these professions. Indeed, the study’s lead author David Miller points out that equal representation in drawings cannot be expected while inequality persists in the real world of science. When children taking part in one particular study were asked to draw teachers, only 25% of children drew men, demonstrating that at least among children certain gender stereotypes are being dispelled at a slower rate than others.
It was also observed that while girls on average draw 42% of scientists as women, boys only draw 4% as women, despite the fact that women represented 49% of biological scientists, 35% of chemists, and 11% of physicists and astronomers in the United States by 2013. Researchers also noted that on average 79% of the drawing depicted white scientists.
Bianca Reinisch, a scientist at the Free University of Berlin, expressed some scepticism at the study, arguing that children’s responses could be influenced by the way in which the task was explained to them, as well as objects and posters they see in the room.
Applicants hoping to study Psychology and those interested in gender and women’s studies may wish to keep this study in mind as they think about how children absorb and perpetuate cultural information such as gender and race biases, and whether their perceptions can constitute a useful measure of social progress. Students interested in Art could consider whether children’s drawings can be considered “art”, and how some artists’ use of abstraction and “naïve” styles could be compared to how children express themselves and reflect the society around them.