In ‘draw-a-scientist’ studies, more kids draw women than before

Quick, think of a scientist.

Who did you picture? Researchers for years have been gaining insight into societal views by asking this question to children and documenting what they imagine, which in turn reveals a lot about how their generation sees the world.

One area this kind of test illuminates is gender roles. In the 1960s and ‘70s, when around 5,000 kids were asked to draw their own vision of a scientist in many different studies, just 28 scribbled down a drawing of a woman — 0.6%.

These kinds of studies are not uncommon, so recently a team conducted an analysis of over 30 years of these studies, ranging from 1985 to 2016. These studies encompass more than 20,000 U.S. kids, ranging from grade schoolers to high school seniors.

Averaging across these years, 28% of students both male and female drew female scientists. In 2010, 40% drew women. The rise correlates with a real-world increase of women working in science fields. According to the researchers, women working in biological science rose from 28% to 49% from 1960 to 2013; 8% to 35% in chemistry; and 3% to 11% in physics.

Interestingly, younger girls are more likely to draw scientists of their younger gender than older girls are. The recent study found that 70% of six-year-old girls draw women researchers, but only 25% of 16-year-old girls did.

“This is a critical period in which kids are learning stereotypes,” said psychologist David Miller, who was involved with the study. “It’s important that teachers and parents present diverse examples of both male and female scientists.”

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