Gender beliefs may be ingrained in children’s books, study finds

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Children’s books could influence the way your child thinks about gender and stereotypes, according to a new study. (AP Photo / Toby Talbot)

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New study combed through hundreds of thousands of words in 247 children’s books, found books may affect how children 5 and under think gender, femininity and masculinity.

The study, which was published in the journal Psychological Science on December 23, found that children’s books convey systemic ideas about gender and can often insinuate gender stereotypes, especially ideas such as boys are better at. math or girls are more good at reading.

Why is this important? Because reading at a young age is beneficial for children, according to the study, and it could influence a child’s beliefs about gender. In some cases, the gender bias in children’s books was stronger than what is found in adult literature.

“We have found that many popular children’s books are often read to young children, such as Curious georges and Amelia Bedelia, contain rich information on the genre presented in a subtle way“said lead study author Molly Lewis.

Researchers tested several different methods to identify gender bias in children’s literature, including focusing on four gender stereotypes that have already been examined between adults and children.

  1. Women as “good” and men as “bad”

  2. Women are better at languages, men at math

  3. Women are better at art, men are better at math

  4. Women are family oriented, men are career oriented

The study then used word and language comparison models to identify stereotypes and prejudices in the books. Based on the results, the models showed that the biases between language and math, arts and math, and family and career were greater in children’s literature than in adult literature, indicating that stereotypes can not only be present in children’s books, but also exaggerated.

“These results are largely consistent with previous work showing similar bases in a historical body of children’s books published around 1900,” the study concluded. He also noted that almost half of the books had only male or female gender characters.

Next, the study looked at the gender of characters in books boys tend to read, versus books girls read, by looking at reviews on Amazon.com. The study broke down the reviews by identifying keywords in customer reviews of each book, such as referring to their daughter, son, niece or nephew.

According to the data, books with more female-oriented content and characters were read to girls more often, and more male-oriented books were read to boys. It was also found that there was a stronger bias towards reading girls ‘books with a female gender bias than reading boys’ books with a male bias.

“The results suggest that children’s books featuring a particular genre and content associated with that genre tend to be read disproportionately to children of that genre,” the study said.

Some of the books that ranked among the most feminine were Chrysanthemum, Courageous Irene and Amelia Bedelia. Some of the top rated male books have been Curious georges, Dear zoo and Good night, good night, construction site.

The results indicated that since children were more inclined to read books about their own gender, girls would learn more about stereotypes applied to women and boys would learn more about gender stereotypes associated with men, leading to wondering how children identify stereotypes of the opposite sex, a statement on the study noted.

“One possibility is that they get this information from other sources such as the media and direct interactions,” the study said.

Given the frequent gender bias in children’s books, Lewis said this could imply that parents have the ability to influence children’s concepts and beliefs about gender through books. It has yet to be discovered whether children’s interest in reading their correlated gender biases was due to caregiver or child preference, according to the study.

Another trend that was noted in the study was that prejudices and the frequency of the importance of gender in books have changed over the course of history, he said. Older books generally had more male characters, based on publication data.

The increase in the presence of female characters in the media goes beyond children’s books, too much. According to a 2020-2021 study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, female characters in speaking roles for broadcast networks and streaming services reached 45%, according to the study, which was a record high. historical.

Streaming services also had the highest percentage of major female characters, at 52%.

Future research should be conducted to assess how different gender biases and disparities are displayed in children’s books to understand how this might influence young children, according to the Children’s Literature Study.

“There is no doubt that shared reading has many advantages. However, our data shows that contemporary children’s books also convey systematic information about gender, ”the study said. “Caregivers may inadvertently promote the development of gender stereotypes through shared book reading. “

This story was originally published December 27, 2021 8:00 p.m.

Alison Cutler is the National Real-Time Reporter for the Southeast at McClatchy. She graduated from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University and previously worked for The News Leader in Staunton, Va., A subsidiary of USAToday.

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