Abertay University: Gender stereotypes affecting boys’ education decisions more than girls’

Boys continue to be put off traditionally ‘female’ career paths due to being swayed by gender stereotyping while girls reject stereotypes more readily, new research has found.

The two studies from Abertay University in Dundee and the University of Aberdeen used a Gender Attribution scale to gauge how well children understood gender stereotypes and how likely they were to reject them, as well as analysing what impact stereotypes may have had on their school subject choices.

A total of 294 young people took part in the research, split roughly evenly into two age groups of 9-11-year-olds and 13-15-year-olds.

The first study involved participants being asked to rate whether males or females would be more suited to a series of school subjects and job roles, and also being asked what ‘most people’ would think about these.

In the second study, participants were also asked to select which subjects they intended to choose or had already chosen to study at school, based on a list of eight traditionally masculine subjects (Physics, Biology, Chemistry, PE, Practical woodworking, Computing science, Graphic communication, IT) and eight traditionally feminine subjects (French, German, Spanish, Italian, Music, Drama, Art, Hospitality: practical cookery).

“I think the time is right to encourage more men into subjects seen as traditionally feminine to promote true gender equity” -Dr Lara Wood.
Across both studies it was revealed that girls rejected gender stereotypes around 50% of the time, in comparison to only around 25% for boys.

Further analysis of subject choice data showed boys selected just one traditionally feminine subject for every three masculine subjects picked, while girls chose a similar proportion of each.

It was also found that older pupils knew about more gender stereotypes than the younger age group.

Dr Lara Wood

Dr Lara Wood, Lecturer in Psychology in Abertay University’s School of Applied Sciences said: “Our research shows that boys are still less likely to pick subjects that would allow them to enter careers in industries such as art and nursing.

“Lots has been done in in years past to encourage girls to enter careers traditionally seen as masculine such as engineering. However, I think the time is right to encourage more men into subjects seen as traditionally feminine to promote true gender equity.

“Only around 10% of nurses in the UK are men. Lots of boys possess attributes like compassion, ability to be empathetic, well-developed communication and decision-making skills that would make them fantastic nurses, but they may not feel able to challenge gender stereotypes and pick subjects that could aid them in this career.”

The research, Gender stereotypes in UK children and adolescents: Changing patterns of knowledge and endorsement was published in the British Journal of Social Psychology.

Dr Wood and co-authors Dr Jacqui Hutchison and Professor Sheila Cunningham now intend to conduct further research looking at ways to encourage boys of this age group to challenge gender stereotypes.

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