Why it matters

There is a growing body of evidence that points to the limiting impact that gendered stereotypes have on children's aspirations, subject choices and behaviours.

Gendered inequalities – in childhood and beyond

Gender stereotypes can limit children’s choices from an early age, as seen in the careers children hope for, the school subjects they identify with and the ways in which they behave towards one another in and out of school. Gender stereotypes steer girls and boys in different directions which are reflected in later life in career choices, pay, mental health and violent behaviours.

Aspirations, choices and careers

Children’s attitudes towards jobs are influenced by what they see around them. In young children, gender stereotyping still influences girls towards career ideas centred around nurture, and boys towards transport and sport. Of course, ideas expressed aged 4 or so may not reflect where individual children will end up, but they create a gendered picture which is carried through into the overall composition of the workforce.

The tendency for boys to be attracted to technical and physical occupations, and girls to be attracted to caring and creative jobs, remains evident. These preferences (and later, choices) reflect the different life experiences according to gender to which children are still subject… many people are still having their ambition and potential capped by horizons that are narrowed by gender.

Professor Becky Francis, Director UCL Institute of Education, Drawing the Future

Aspirations and attitudes:

We start to see the influence of gendered stereotypes from a very young age, reflected in children’s emerging aspirations and sense of ‘self’.

6

Girls as young as six believe that brilliance is a male trait.

4

The gender divide is as strong at age 4 as it is at 14 when it comes to children’s career choices.

‘Masculine’, ‘brainy’ and ‘not nurturing’ – and therefore at odds with conventional femininity

How year-6 girls (aged 10-11) viewed science, as found by the ASPIRES study carried out by King’s College London over 5 years

Achievement

The effect of stereotypes can also be seen in differing academic achievement in certain subjects, particularly writing and English in which, at a national level, girls consistently outperform boys . Ofsted have identified a ‘non-macho’ school culture as a key factor in schools achieving good standards in boys’ writing. (Yes he can: schools where boys write well, Ofsted 2003)

12%

Girls outperformed boys by 12% at expected levels in Y6 SAT exams

15%

Girls outperformed boys by 15% at pass level in English Lit GSCE

‘The ‘gender gap in achievement’ can be removed by challenging notions of gender itself’

Gender issues in schools, DCSF, 2009

Subject choices:

The gendered influences to which children are exposed can be seen reflected in stark differences in the subject choices they make towards the end of secondary school.

22%

Girls account for only 22% of Physics and less than 12% of computing A-Levels – see chart

23%

Boys account for only 23% of English Lit  A-Levels

28%

Girls account for 28% of Further Maths A-level

25%

Boys take 25% of Psychology and 8% of Performing/Expressive Arts A-levels

Careers:

These different interests and choices which have been fostered from birth, feed gender imbalances in workforces and institutions in many areas – imbalances which in turn continue to influence children’s ideas of male and female roles.

5%

Throughout the last decade, no more than 5% of those starting advanced apprenticeships were girls in any one year

14%

The gender pay gap remains around 14% for full time workers

2x

Men are twice as likely as women to be turned down in a request for flexible working.

17%

Only 17% of ICT professionals and 12% of construction industry workers are female

11%

11% of registered nurses are male

<10%

Less than 10% of engineering professionals in the UK are female

12

There are only 12 female CEOs in the FTSE 350.

22%

Only 22% of High Court judges are women

32%

32% of MPs are women

Expectations, behaviours and social outcomes

The expectations set up by gender stereotypes are factors in a number of limiting and damaging social outcomes such as behaviour in and beyond school, mental health and sexual harassment.

Children are constantly sent messages from those around them, including slogans on T-shirts and every day expressions. Some are seemingly ‘harmless banter’, some are more obviously offensive, but they all have a cumulative impact that shape expectations and behaviours.

Man up

That’s not very ladylike

Mental health:

Gender norms often inhibit boys and men from expressing their emotions other than through anger. Work to prevent and deal with the consequences of domestic violence and male suicide often struggles against the effects of gender norms which have been learnt young. A phrase increasingly used to refer to narrow ideas of male roles base on aggression, violence, suppression of emotions and objectification of women is ‘toxic masculinity’ – recognising the toxic effects these narrow ideas or stereotypes have on men and women.

6x

Girls are 6 times more likely to be counselled by Childline about suicidal thoughts and feelings than boys…

2x

despite boys aged 15-19 being twice as likely to commit suicide

‘traditional gender stereotypes are still common and can be harmful to children’s well-being.’
‘Children whose friendship groups emphasise traditional gender stereotypes – such as boys being tough and girls dressing in a certain way – had lower subjective well-being.’
The Good Childhood Report, The Children’s Society 2018)

75%

Men account for 75% of all suicides

3x

3 times as many men as women are admitted to hospital for drug-related disorders

Exclusion:

3x

The permanent exclusion rate for boys was over 3 times higher than that for girls in the year 2016-17

95%

Men accounted for 95% of the prison population in 2017

Sexual harassment and sexual violence

Whilst the MeToo movement has shone a light on the scale of sexual harassment in society, sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools remains a significant yet less visible issue which affects a large number of children and young people, particularly girls. Even in schools, sexual harassment is normalised, accepted by young people as part of daily life and accepted by teachers as ‘just banter’.

There’s no rules for like skirt lifting or anything. There’s rules for swearing at each other but not for like touching or skirt lifting.

Female student, quoted in It’s Just Everywhere: A study on sexism in schools – and how we tackle it

34%

of primary school teachers witness gender stereotyping on at least a weekly basis

64%

of secondary school teachers hear sexist language on at least a weekly basis

37%

female students at mixed sex schools who have personally experienced some form of sexual harassment at school

17%

primary school teachers have witnessed sexual harassment in school
Source: It’s just everywhere report

1 in 4

women will suffer domestic violence in their lifetime

For all the papers and resources that are mentioned frequently throughout this website, please see our Sources and links page