50 years ago, kids asked to draw scientists never sketched women. Now they do

A study published in "Child Development" shows that children recognize women as having a role in science, a major change from 50 years ago.

50 years ago, kids asked to draw scientists never sketched women. Now they do

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50 years ago, kids asked to draw scientists never sketched women. Now they do


My seventh-grade daughter wants to be a scientist. She wants to work for NASA.

Or maybe she said that once.  And I’m clinging to that with all I’ve got.

Credit: Giphy.com

Anyway, science is her favorite subject and she’s deep into the STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Math) program at her school. She sees herself working in the field one day. Other children think that’s possible for her too.


‘Draw-a-Scientist’ experiment

A group of researchers told 5,000 school kids to draw a scientist between the years of 1966 and 1977.

The children showed great variety in drawing scientists within a lab with lab coats, glasses, and facial hair, including really long sideburns. Except when it came to gender. The study published in 1983 showed that less than 1 percent, or only 28 of the 5,000 pictures drawn, were of women. Even the girls sketched men.

Credit: Giphy.com

New research

Now a new meta-analysis, published in the journal of “Child Development,” looked at 78 studies of U.S. children involving 20,000 children and found that they were increasingly likely to draw women as scientists.

About a third of children asked to "draw a scientist" today would be of women.

Credit: Vasilia Christidou

The research done at Northwestern University showed that more recently 3 in 10 kids sketched female scientists.

About 42 percent of the girls’ drawings portrayed female scientists. Only 5 percent of the boys’ drawings were of female scientists. But researchers said that the percentages still represented growth.

Kids are being exposed to more cultural references to women in science in movies and TV, therefore sketch" more female scientists when asked to "draw a scientist", researchers at Northwestern University believe.

Credit: Vasilia Christidou

Maybe more female scientists depicted in magazines, TV and movies like “Hidden Figures” show young girls what’s possible. Study lead author David Miller, a psychology Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern, thinks so. He said in this Northwestern campus news story:

“Given this change in stereotypes, girls in recent years might now develop interests in science more freely than before. Prior studies have suggested that these gender-science stereotypes could shape girls’ interests in science-related activities and careers.”

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