Stereotypes associating science with men persist around the world, study shows

Madeline Fox, Assistant Campus Editor

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Stereotypes associating science with men more than women remain strong across the globe, according to a new Northwestern study.

The gender-science stereotypes study, the largest of its kind, showed participants more strongly associated science with male-gendered words than female ones. It was conducted by NU psychology Prof. Alice Eagly, psychology graduate student David Miller and University of California, Berkeley Prof. Marcia Linn, and included data from almost 350,000 people in 66 nations.

“These stereotypes are important because they can contribute to outcomes such as biased hiring decisions according to prior studies,” Miller said in a news release.

The study, titled “Women’s Representation in Science Predicts National Gender-Science Stereotypes: Evidence From 66 Nations,” had participants rate how much they associated science and science-related words like “math” and “physics” with males and females. It did not ask participants whether they thought men or women were more capable in science.

Researchers found that stereotypes were strongest in nations where fewer women pursued scientific education and careers, such as the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries.

In nations with more female science majors and researchers, however, gender stereotypes were weaker. Related research suggests that college experiences may influence changes in gender-science biases, Eagly said.

“Stereotypes should erode more quickly for individuals who see many female science majors in their classes, for instance,” she said in the release.

Eagly cautioned that simply taking classes taught by female instructors is not enough to change people’s preconceptions — women need to be integrated into various aspects of the scientific community, including pop culture portrayals, to effectively combat these stereotypes.

“Changing these persistent beliefs likely requires seeing female scientists across diverse sources such as news articles, television shows and textbooks,” she said in the news release.

The study, already available online, will be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology in the fall.

Twitter: @MadelineFox14