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Kids and Teens Believe Girls Aren't Interested in Computer Science

a girl in headphones reads from a laptop computer

Studies show that young girls are significantly less interested in an activity marked with a gender stereotype compared to an activity with no stereotype.

Children as young as age six develop ideas that girls are less interested than boys in computer science and engineering — stereotypes that can extend into the late teens and contribute to a gender gap in STEM college courses and related careers.

Researchers from the University of Houston and the University of Washington explored the gender-based beliefs young children and teens hold about interest in STEM fields. They describe their work in "Gender Stereotypes About Interests Start Early and Cause Gender Disparities in Computer Science and Engineering" published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"By the time they reach high school, many girls have made their decision not to pursue degrees in computer science and engineering because they feel they don't belong," says Allison Master, an assistant professor at the University of Houston and the study's lead author.

"Large surveys told us that the kids had absorbed the cultural stereotype that girls are less interested in computer science and engineering," says co-author Andrew Meltzoff, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington. "We discovered that labeling an activity in a stereotyped way influenced children's interest in it and their willingness to take it home. This brought home to us the pernicious effect of stereotypes on children and teens"

From University of Washington
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