New research warns that children’s books could be perpetuating stereotypes about gender.

More than 240 books written for children five years old and younger were analysed by a team from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

They found that books with a male main character were more often about professions, whereas those with a female protagonist were about affection. 

‘Some of the stereotypes that have been studied in a social psychology literature are present in these books, like girls being good at reading and boys being good at math,’ said Molly Lewis, lead author on the study.

The authors believe that gendered books read to children in early education ‘could play an integral role in solidifying gendered perceptions in young children.’

Books designed for children may be perpetuating gender stereotypes, a new study warns, with books for boys more likely to focus on work, tools and transport. Stock image

Books designed for children may be perpetuating gender stereotypes, a new study warns, with books for boys more likely to focus on work, tools and transport. Stock image

Children’s books are still dominated by MALE characters

Children’s books are dominated by male characters while female protagonists are being underrepresented, study shows.

Researchers analysed 3,000 books published in the last 60 years, including the Harry Potter series. 

Although more books now feature female protagonists than in the 1960s, males remain ‘overrepresented’.

It’s possible publishing houses are more drawn to stories featuring male protagonists, they claim. 

The team found that books with a strong male or female protagonist were more likely to have gendered language specifically targeted to their main character. 

Female-associated words focused on affection, school-related words and communication verbs, like ‘explained’ and ‘listened.’ 

Meanwhile, male-associated words focused more on professions, transportation and tools, with less of a focus on emotional needs.

‘The audiences of these books [are] different,’ said Lewis. ‘Girls more often read stereotypically girl books, and boys more often read stereotypically boy books.’

Girls are more likely to have books read to them that include female protagonists than boys. Because of these preferences, children are more likely to learn about the gender biases of their own gender than of other genders.

To come to this conclusion a total of 247 books aimed at under fives from the from the Wisconsin Children’s Book Corpus, were studied by the researchers. 

Books aimed at girls were more likely to have gendered language, than those aimed at boys, according to the researchers.

This could be down to ‘male’ being historically seen as the default gender. Female-coded words and phrases are more outside of the norm and more notable.

They then compared their findings to adult fiction, finding that children’s books displayed more gender stereotypes than fiction books read by adults.

They focused on how often women were associated with terms like good, family, language and arts, while men were associated with bad, careers and math. 

Compared to the adult books, which was fairly gender neutral when it came to associations between gender, language, arts and math, children’s books were far more likely to associate women with language and arts and men with maths.

More than 240 books written for children five years old and younger were analysed by a team from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Stock image

A team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, University of Wisconsin Madison and University of Wisconsin-Madison analysed more than 240 books for children aged five and under. Image from stock

Study claims that children are more likely to engage with books if they come from real books. 

Families with children have many options. Some use tablets to tell stories at bedtime, while others are used as educational tools.

However, a recent study found that children are much more engaged with reading books when they are read directly from the book. 

The study involved 72 parents of young children between 24 and 36 months old.

Researchers found that reading to children a true book made them more open to listening, and children were more responsive to the conversation than using a tablet.

Mark Seidenberg (Professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin Madison) said that data only tell a part of the story. He was also a contributor to this article. 

“They are based upon the words of children’s books, and don’t speak to other aspects that may be important: the story, emotion, and the way the books help children understand the world. 

Authors don’t intend to ruin children’s memories about ‘Curious George,’ ‘Amelia Bedelia’ and any other well-received children’s books.

‘Knowing that stereotypes do creep into many books and that children develop beliefs about gender at a young age, we probably want to consider books with this in mind,’ explained Seidenberg.

The authors didn’t examine the perceptions of gender by children or how books impact the way they are perceived. 

This study did not consider other gender stereotypes children might be exposed to.

Lewis said that there’s often an ongoing cycle to learning gender stereotypes. Children learn them at a young stage and they are perpetuated as they age. 

“These books could be used to communicate information about gender. It is important to consider what messages these books may contain and whether you would like to pass them on to your children.

The findings have been published in the journal Psychological Science. 


The marshmallow test, which has fascinated parents and researchers alike, involves children trying to resist the temptation to eat a marshmallow in hopes of a bigger prize

Parents and researchers have enjoyed the marshmallow test. It involves kids trying to resist temptations to eat marshmallows in order to win a larger prize.

The original marshmallow test, as it’s come to be called, was conducted by researchers led by Professor Walter Mischel, then at Stanford University, in the 1960s.

The original work of Professor Mischel is considered one the most important behavioural experiments. 

A marshmallow was placed in front of three- to five year olds and he said that they would eat it once he had left.

However, he offered to give them the second marshmallow if they would wait at least 20 minutes.

He discovered that about a third of his subjects would eat the sweet right away, while a third would wait until he returned to grab two marshmallows. The rest would attempt to hold off but eventually give up.

He discovered a link between his test results, and the success of his life 14 years later.

It was discovered that the children who got straight to the sweetness became teenagers with low self-esteem who had difficult relationships with peers.

People who waited to get a second marshmallow were more successful academically, socially and in self-assertion.

Boys and girls who waited had an average score of 210 more points in school exams that those who didn’t.