Some children’s books may perpetuate gender stereotypes, new research has found, particularly for young female readers.
An analysis of more than 200 children’s books published Wednesday in the journal Psychological Science found that gendered language in most stories was used to describe the protagonist, and more passive verbs like “listened” were most often tied to main characters who were female.
Books with female protagonists were more likely than books with male protagonists to have gendered language, the study, conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, found.
Researchers said this was likely because “male” has historically been the “default gender” in storytelling. Female-coded words are therefore more notable because they differ from the norm.
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“Some of the stereotypes that have been studied in a social psychology literature are present in these books, like girls being good at reading and boys being good at math,” Molly Lewis, the study’s lead author, said Wednesday in a news release.
Girls are more likely than boys to read books with female protagonists, according to the study, meaning children are more likely to be subjected to the gender biases of their own gender than other genders.
That can reinforce more traditional gender roles or stereotypes, researchers said.
“There is often kind of a cycle of learning about gender stereotypes, with children learning stereotypes at a young age then perpetuating them as they get older,” Lewis said. “These books may be a vehicle for communicating information about gender. We may need to pay some attention to what those messages may be and whether they’re messages you want to even bring to children.”
Researchers also compared their analysis of children’s books to adult fiction books, finding that children’s books displayed far more gender stereotypes, with female characters more often associated with family, language, and arts, and male characters with careers and math.
The study did not directly examine how children perceive messages about gender in children’s literature or how those books in turn influence how they may perceive gender. Researchers also did not evaluate other sources of gender stereotypes to which children are exposed.
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