Report

Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests

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Science  27 Jan 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6323, pp. 389-391
DOI: 10.1126/science.aah6524

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  • RE: Evolved Gender-Differences between Boys and Girls

    Evolved Gender-Differences between Boys and Girls
    In their report “Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests” (27. January, p. 389), L. Bian et al. conclude that, by the age of 6, the gendered notion of “brilliance = male” is an acquired trait, both by boys and girls. Moreover, the authors argue that, later in life, this “gender stereotype” will negatively influence women’s careers, notably in fields such as mathematics, physics or philosophy.
    However, Brian et al. implicitly assume that young children respond to their questions in a gender-neutral way (boys = girls), which may not be the case. In a comprehensive study on growth rates in unborn babies it was shown that fetal body mass (g) of boys at birth is ca. 4 % higher than that of girls. This conclusion is based on measurements in different human populations characterized by specific cultures; Germany, India and Egypt had the smallest fetuses (1). This significant gender-difference may be, at least in part, due to the fact that fetal testosterone levels, determined from weeks 13 to 20 of gestation, are higher in male vs. female unborns (2). Hence, the Y-chromosome-regulated masculinization of the brain occurs early during pregnancy, so that more than 99 % of newborn babies have a genetically determined gender identity (XY = boys vs. XX = girls; the sex chromosomes are expressed throughout the developing body) (3). Moreover, in populations of 6-year old b...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Gender stereotypes - L. Bian et al. 2017

    Evolved Gender-Differences between Boys and Girls
    In their report “Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests” (27. January, p. 389), L. Bian et al. conclude that, by the age of 6, the gendered notion of “brilliance = male” is an acquired trait, both by boys and girls. Moreover, the authors argue that, later in life, this “gender stereotype” will negatively influence women’s careers, notably in fields such as mathematics, physics or philosophy.
    However, Brian et al. implicitly assume that young children respond to their questions in a gender-neutral way (boys = girls), which may not be the case. In a comprehensive study on growth rates in unborn babies it was shown that fetal body mass (g) of boys at birth is ca. 4 % higher than that of girls. This conclusion is based on measurements in different human populations characterized by specific cultures; Germany, India and Egypt had the smallest fetuses (1). This significant gender-difference may be, at least in part, due to the fact that fetal testosterone levels, determined from weeks 13 to 20 of gestation, are higher in male vs. female unborns (2). Hence, the Y-chromosome-regulated masculinization of the brain occurs early during pregnancy, so that more than 99 % of newborn babies have a genetically determined gender identity (XY = boys vs. XX = girls; the sex chromosomes are expressed throughout the developing body) (3). Moreover, in populations of 6-year old b...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: work of Lin, Leslie and Cimpian
    • Nancy Lutwak, Physician, VA New York Harbor Healthcare System, NYU School of Medicine

    The Importance of Convincing All Young Children They Have Enormous Potential

    The recently published work of Lin, Leslie and Cimpian is both eye-opening and distressing. Their work demonstrates that by age 6 girls are convinced brilliance is a male quality. They also indicate this belief will shape girls’ interests and may narrow their career choices.
    This may be the case. The National Science Foundation Data from 2014 compares the number of full-time graduate students by gender in multiple disciplines. Enrollment of women was 28% in Computer Science, 31% in Pure/Applied Mathematics, 20% in Physics, 15% in Mechanical Engineering, 36% in Economics but 61% in Sociology. The U.S. Department of Commerce report based on statistics of 2009, Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation, concludes that women are greatly underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
    Even though women hold close to 50% of jobs in our economy, their participation in STEM jobs is less than 25%. Women working in STEM jobs earned 33% more than their counterparts in non-STEM jobs in 2009. Thus, the fact that women shy away from jobs in STEM partly results in gender pay inequality, although it is true there is still a small gender gap in earnings of women in STEM versus men in STEM.
    The U.S. Department of Commerce report postulates that the discrepancy in gender participation in STEM fields results from lack of female role models, stereotyping and lack...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Gender sterotypes

    It is unfortunate that the authors of this report chose to cast findings in an inappropriate light that reflects and perpetuates existing gender biases in our society.

    Far from supporting the authors' conclusions, the report shows that, after the age of five, girls become aware that being “smart” is not tied to gender, while boys persist in their delusion of intellectual superiority. The report also downplays the interesting finding that girls are much more confident in their ability to succeed.

    A better way to interpret the results is that boys think they are smarter, but girls are more willing to work hard, are confident in their ability to succeed, and are generally nicer than boys.

    The authors have fallen victim to their own biases in how they interpreted results, and in so doing are misleading the readers and perpetuating harmful gender biases. The media is picking this up with doomsday titles like "Girls see themselves less talented than boys by age of six” - and this is terrible.

    Please read my Forbes article in which I give more detailed explanation of the flaws in this report: http://bit.ly/2jM58c6

    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests

    Congratulations on this interesting project. I am still going through some of the data, but why were 6 and 7 year olds grouped together (as opposed to 5 and 6 year olds)? For study 1 data, it appears that children picked their own gender in the majority of the presented cases a majority of the time (69-82% of subjects in each group)-- except for the age 6 girls (only 38%). If there is divergence starting at age 6, why would results for the 7 years old boys and girls be more similar? (11 out of 16 subjects in each gender picked their own gender in a majority of the presented cases). Would also appreciate your comments on the "clinical" magnitude of the statistical differences. Thanks again.

    Competing Interests: None declared.

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