‘Draw-a-scientist’ studies have been revealing what children view as the stereotypical image of a scientist for decades. When discussing issues of gender in science, you’ve probably heard how most children will come up with a lab-coated, bespectacled man, and hardly ever a woman. This was certainly the case in the 1960s, but a meta-analysis of studies conducted over the years has shown the situation may be changing.
Researchers at Northwestern University in the US examined the results of 78 studies, which together involved more than 20,000 US children. They found that depictions of female scientists has increased with time. In one of the first such studies that took place between 1966 and 1977, for example, less than 1% of the study’s 5000 children drew a woman when asked to draw a scientist. But in studies from 1985 to 2016, an average of 28% drew a female scientist. They also found that although girls are still more likely to draw a female scientist than boys, the proportion of female scientists drawn has increased among both sexes over the years.
The researchers suggest that children are increasingly likely to think of scientists as female because of changing roles in society for men and women. They say it is vital to carry on showing children examples of scientists of both genders.
D I Miller et al, Child Dev., 2018, DOI: 10.1111/cdev.13039