Study of over 5,000 children’s books from 20th century shows gender bias

A team of sociologists looked at “nearly 6,000” of children’s books from the 20th century and found that there were patterns of gender bias throughout the entire period:

“We looked at a full century of children’s books,” McCabe said. “We were surprised to find that books did not become consistently more equal throughout the century. They were most unequal in the middle of the century, with more male-dominated characters from 1930 to 1969, than those published in the first three decades of the century and in later decades.”…

The study, “Gender in Twentieth–Century Children’s Books: Patterns of Disparity in Titles and Central Characters,” was published in the journal Gender & Society. The study found that:

•Males are central characters in 57 percent of children’s books published per year, while only 31 percent have female central characters.
•No more than 33 percent of children’s books published in any given year contain central characters that are adult women or female animals, but adult men and male animals appear in up to 100 percent of books.
•Male animals are central characters in more than 23 percent of books per year, while female animals are in only 7.5 percent.
•On average, 36.5 percent of books in each year studied include a male in the title, compared to 17.5 percent that include a female.
•Although books published in the 1990s came close to parity for human characters, a significant disparity of nearly 2 to 1 remains for male animal characters versus female.

This may not seem terribly important in the grand scheme of the world but at the same time, children’s books can play an important role in the socialization process. I would be interested to see how the authors discuss the changing role of children’s book with the advent of mass publishing, television, movies/DVDs, etc. And is there any way to assess the impact of such texts on children who read them?

Just off the top of my head, I’m struck by the number of children’s books examined. Over a 100 year stretch, this would average out of 60 per year but this seems like an unusually large qualitative data set.

0 thoughts on “Study of over 5,000 children’s books from 20th century shows gender bias

  1. Pingback: The disappearing natural world in children’s books | Legally Sociable

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