Report Children Drawings of Humans Changed Since 1970s, Reflecting Modern Society’s Attitude to Gender

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Over the last half century Western European countries have enjoyed a large increase in gender equality. There is a long way to go, but some statistics are striking: for instance, in Germany the employment rate for women has increased from 48 per cent in 1980 to 73 per cent in 2014. Psychologists are interested in whether, and how, these kind of societal-level changes filter down and affect children’s conceptions of gender.

To find out, a team at the University of Münster and Osnabrück University, led by Bettina Lamm, has compared the way that young German children in 1977 drew a human figure with the way that age-matched German children in 2015 drew a figure. The results, published in Sex Roles, suggest two parallel changes: girls in 2015 more often chose to draw a female figure than girls in 1977; at the same time, the children tested in 2015 depicted female figures as more distinctly feminine than the children in the 1970s.

“Societal changes over the last four decades in West Germany have clearly generated two trends,” the researchers said. “… growing status equality between the genders on the one hand, and increasing gender differentiation, on the other.”


There were 208 boys and girls in the sample from 1977 and 168 in the contemporary sample, with no significant age differences between the two – across both groups, the average age was 6-7 years, and just over 50 per cent were female. Both groups were recruited from comparable West German cities with “well-developed educational systems” and all children spoke German at home.

In the 1970s and in 2015 the children were tested in school. They were given a blank piece of paper and a pencil and the same instruction to “draw a picture of a person as well as you can” with no time limit. The researchers then coded all the drawings for whether they were male or female and how many gender stereotypical details they included, in terms of things like hairstyle, clothing and jewellery.


Read more here. (British Psychological Society)
 
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