As parents, we know that our girls are just as intelligent as our boys. According to this new study, however, girls stop thinking of themselves as "really, really smart" by the age of six.
The study was conducted by scientists at Illinois University, New York University, and Princeton University. Admittedly, further research needs to be done beyond the 400 middle-class white children who were pooled in this experiment, but what they found was telling. While five-year-old girls do not hesitate to place themselves in the category of genius, that changes drastically by the age of six.
By the age of six, girls have stopped associating brilliance with their own gender. Instead, they start to identify genius as an inherently male trait.
When asked to play an unfamiliar game for "smart kids," six-year-old girls showed less interest than boys. Later, when the same game was presented to a new group of children and told it was for "kids who try hard," boys and girls were equally interested and engaged.
However, stereotypes about genius go way beyond games. As girls get older, the idea that boys are naturally smarter creates a buffer that makes them shy away from fields like math, science, and engineering. In the big picture, this keeps them out of prestigious, high-paying careers, ultimately contributing to the gender wage gap.
Ironically, more females than males go on to obtain a Bachelor's Degree. While it's encouraging to see so many women pursuing higher education, the notion that they are just not as smart as boys leads them away from STEM fields.
While intelligence is certainly not limited to those working in STEM, the fact of the matter is that girls are just as brilliant as boys. Could the cure for cancer or prevention of climate change have been lost to us because a girl didn't think she was smart enough to participate in a male-driven field? Maybe. But it's up to parents and educators to make sure that doesn't happen to future generations of brilliant young girls.
What parents can do:
- Talk to their girls about female accomplishments in mathematics, science, and engineering.
- Disregard the notion that brilliance is innate by emphasizing hard work and perseverance.
- Equally distribute household chores between male and female children at home -- studies show that this plays a role in children's future career aspirations.
What educators can do:
- Provide good mentors who will encourage girls to pursue math and science.
- Include classroom material that discusses the accomplishments of women in traditionally male-driven fields.
- Acknowledge that stereotypes exist and push girls to move past them.