Children Start Drawing Women More Often When Asked To Draw A Scientist

drawing women
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The “Draw a Scientist” test is a longstanding experiment that has been repeatedly implemented by sociologists over the years. While the majority of children still depict scientists as men, a growing number of kids are drawing women when asked to complete the drawing tasks.

“Draw A Scientist”

Researchers at Northwestern University analyzed five decades of the drawing test and found that as time goes on, more and more children are drawing women when asked to draw a scientist.

In the 1960s and 1970s, less than one percent of children were drawing women when asked to draw a scientist. Between the 1980s and present day, that number rose to 28% – a massive gain but still lower than the actual representation of women in science.

Children are still much less likely to start drawing women when asked to draw a scientist despite these increases, bringing attention both to the gender disparity in the field as well as the inaccurate representation of who scientists actually are to young children.

Changes With Age

Younger children were more likely to be drawing women as scientists, too, with fewer kids depicting women in the field as they grew older and became more aware of the male dominance in the scientific field. However, the growth of the number of children drawing women in this “Draw a Scientist” experiment over the past 30 years is notable, with a near 30% growth perhaps representing the growth of female representation in various scientific fields.

“These changes across children’s age likely reflect that children’s exposure to male scientists accumulates during development, even in recent years,” said David Uttal, a co-author of the study and a professor of education and psychology in Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy and Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

The study also highlights the fact that in 2013, women represented 49% of biological scientists, 35% of chemists, and 11% of physicists and astronomers in the United States. This is a significant portion of the scientific community being made up of women – especially in the biological sciences – so it’s interesting that kids are still drawing women at a much lower rate. Perhaps, despite the increase in female representation, young children still aren’t being made aware of this change and the fact that genders are more equally prevalent than ever before.

A Promising Shift

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, only 28 girls out of nearly 5000 children surveyed were drawing women when asked to draw a scientist. This is a stark difference from the representation today, which the study authors believe says something about the direction of our society as a whole.

“Our results suggest that children’s stereotypes change as women’s and men’s roles change in society,” said study co-author Alice Eagly, professor of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern and a faculty fellow with the University’s Institute for Policy Research. “Children still draw more male than female scientists in recent studies, but that is expected because women remain a minority in several science fields.”

“To build on cultural changes, teachers and parents should present children with multiple examples of female and male scientists across many contexts such as science courses, television shows and informal conversations,” concluded Uttal.

Children are incredibly impressionable, and only by taking care to provide examples of equal representation can parents and educators continue this trend towards a higher prevalence of drawing women in the “Draw a Scientist” prompt. While the lower amount of children drawing women does correlate to the lower prevalence of women in the scientific fields in general, it’s still markedly lower than the actual breakdown when you take a look at the kind of people that are actually scientists. Hopefully, with a continued commitment to equality, the number will come closer and closer to 50% as time goes on.