News, Culture & Society

US children are depicting scientists as female more than ever before

Children in the US are equating the jobs of scientists with women more than ever before, a study has found.

Researchers at Northwestern University have concluded that children’s stereotypical views linking men to scientists might have shrunk over the past five decades.

They analyzed 50 years worth of children’s artwork depicting scientists for the study, which encompassed the views of upwards of 20,000 children in the US.


A study from Northwestern University concluded that children in the US are associating scientific jobs with females more than ever before (file photo)

The new study marks the first time ‘Draw-A-Scientist’ literature has been systematically reviewed.

‘Draw-A-Scientist’ literature is based on what children produce when they are asked to create an illustration of their idea of a scientist.

The first study on the topic was conducted from 1966 to 1977, and the results revealed that not even one percent of the 5,000 children involved associated the concept of a scientist with a female.

Almost all of the children’s drawings showed men working with lab equipment, and in many of the drawings the men had facial hair and wore in a lab coat and glasses.

But studies that took place from 1985 to 2016 indicated that the tide was turning, as an average of 28 percent of the children involved drew female scientists during that period.

Now, female scientists are being depicted more than ever, Northwestern researchers have said.

‘This change suggests that children’s stereotypes linking science with men have weakened over time…consistent with more women becoming scientists and children’s media depicting more female scientists on television shows, magazines and other media,’ the new analysis said. 

The report said that both female and male children drew more female scientists as time went on but that girls drew female scientists more often than boys did.

The researchers who worked on the new report also looked at how children develop stereotypes about scientists over time.

The report was based on 'Draw-A-Scientist' studies from the past five decades. The studies represent how children's stereotypes of scientists have shifted over time (file photo)

The report was based on ‘Draw-A-Scientist’ studies from the past five decades. The studies represent how children’s stereotypes of scientists have shifted over time (file photo)

They learned that children do not link science with men until they are in elementary school – at age five, the children involved in the study drew about the same number of female and male scientists.

But while the children were in elementary and middle school their tendency to depict male scientists ‘increased strongly’.

Additionally, the researchers found that the older children were more likely to depict scientists as people wearing lab coats and glasses, and this led them to the conclusion that children develop multiple stereotypes about scientists as they age.

The artwork evaluated for the new report was produced by children in elementary, middle and high school.


  • Even though women are more equally represented in the entirety of the college-educated workforce, they make up just 29 percent of the engineering and science workforce, according to the Women’s Museum of California.
  • Additionally, just 26 percent of women who have STEM degrees hold STEM jobs, while the corresponding figure for men is 40 percent.
  • According to the museum, the chance of a female STEM major working in education or healthcare is twice that of a male STEM major.
  • Fewer than ten percent of employed engineers and scientists are minority women.
  • Less than one-fifth of bachelor’s degrees in computer science are awarded to women, despite the fact that 60 percent of bachelor’s degrees go to female graduates.
  • Last year, 57 percent of girls said they had not considered a STEM career, according to the museum.

Study author Dr David Miller said the new report highlights the potential that more women might, in the future, feel able to pursue a career in a scientific field.

Dr Miller said: ‘Given this change in stereotypes, girls in recent years might now develop interests in science more freely than before. Prior studies have suggested that these gender-science stereotypes could shape girls’ interests in science-related activities and careers.’

Northwestern Professor Alice Eagly echoed Dr Miller’s thoughts.

She said: ‘Our results suggest that children’s stereotypes change as women’s and men’s roles change in society. Children still draw more male than female scientists in recent studies, but that is expected because women remain a minority in several science fields.’

David Uttal, a coauthor of the study, said that parents can play a key role in adjusting stereotypes that leave many children believing women cannot become competitors in scientific fields.

‘To build on cultural changes, teachers and parents should present children with multiple examples of female and male scientists across many contexts, such as science courses, television shows and informal conversations,’ Uttal explained.