Parents are seven times more likely to picture their sons working in construction than their daughters, prompting fears that gender stereotypes are limiting children’s potential.
That’s the finding of a report by the Commission on Gender Stereotypes in Early Childhood, which was established by gender equality campaigning charity, the Fawcett Society.
The report, entitled Unlimited Potential, sets out how gender expectations limit children, causing problems such as lower self-esteem in girls and poorer reading skills in boys.
It also found that stereotypes contribute towards the mental health crisis among children and young people and are at the root of higher male suicide rates, as well as violence against women and girls.
It also warned that stereotyped assumptions also limit career choices, contributing to the gender pay gap.
Surveying parents, the Commission found that the majority of parents recognised there was a problem but nonetheless, seven times as many could see their sons working in construction (22%), compared to just 3% for their daughters. Almost three times as many could see their daughters in nursing or care work (22%), compared to 8% in relation to their sons.
The report is the culmination of an 18-month process of research and evidence gathering, co-chaired by Prof Becky Francis, now chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, and David Lammy MP, in his capacity as former chair of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on fatherhood.
The report also found that there was support for change, with 65% of education practitioners believing that parents would be supportive if they challenged gender stereotypes in their work.
The Commissioners called on the Department for Education to make challenging gender stereotypes a priority all the way through teaching and childcare – from initial training, to the curriculum, to inspection frameworks. They asked to see more support for parents to help them challenge gender stereotyping.
Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society chief executive, said: “Gender stereotyping is everywhere and causes serious, long-lasting harm – that’s the clear message from the research for the Commission. From “boys will be boys” attitudes in nursery or school, to jobs for boys and jobs for girls views among some parents, these stereotypes are deeply embedded and they last a lifetime.”
Professor Becky Francis, Commission co-chair, said: “What every parent hopes for their child, and what educators hope for children in their class, is that they will be free to achieve their potential – yet what the evidence shows is that we still limit our children based on harmful, tired gender stereotypes.
“That adds up to real harm. From boys’ underachievement in reading, to the gender pay gap, the evidence is clear that the stereotypes we impart in early childhood cause significant damage to our children.
“But this is also a message of hope. If government, companies, educators and parents take action, we can challenge stereotypes and change lives, making it possible for our children to live with fewer limitations.”
To view the full report, click here.