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Gender stereotyping starts in primary school

Gender stereotyping starts in primary school

Education and Employers, a UK-based charity, launched a landmark report, Drawing the Future, which revealed that the difference between children’s career aspirations from age seven to 17 are marginal, and too often based on gender stereotypes and socio-economic backgrounds, and influenced by TV, film and radio. The report also shows that some sectors vital for economic health look set to be badly under-resourced in the future.

Are the dreams, hopes and aspirations of children important? Do they shape who and what a child can become? Drawing the Future is the first global research to ask children from 7 – 11 directly what they want to become – by drawing their ideal future job – and what influenced them in their answer. To determine the factors influencing career choices, the survey also asked participants whether they personally knew anyone who did the job, and if not, how they knew about the job, as well as their favourite subject. Over 20 000 entries were received from the UK as well as Australia, Belarus, Bangladesh, China, Columbia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, Switzerland, Uganda and Zambia.

The report, which will be presented to economic and business leaders from around the world in Davos on 25 January, responds to recent findings by the World Economic Forum that the global gender gap widened in 2017. Drawing the Future shows that even before we enter the workforce, gender stereotypes have been formed.

‘The lack of access to role models and awareness of the different jobs is a particular concern for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The drawings also show clear gender patterns. But there is a simple solution that is easy to implement. All children, regardless of their social background, where they live or the jobs their parents do, should have the same chance to meet people doing a wide range of jobs to help them understand the vast opportunities open to them. It is something governments and policy makers around the world should give much more consideration,’ said Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills at the OECD.
International findings include:

•In terms of gender stereotyping and gendered career expectations, aspirations tend to lay in stereotypical masculine/feminine roles across the sample. One of the most popular jobs for boys is often police and armed forces while teaching emerges as one of the most popular professions for girls.

•The trends for STEM related aspirations is largely similar. In keeping with popular theories around masculine and feminine roles, boys showed preference for working with things, e.g., as an Engineer or Scientist whereas girls aspire to jobs working with people / caring professions e.g., working as a teacher, nurse, doctor or vet.

•In all countries, Maths or Science is in the top two favourite subjects among children (for girls and boys), apart from children in Australia and China.

•The general trends suggest that in some developing countries children have more practical and high professional ambitions (Doctor, Teacher), whereas in developed countries they are often formed around celebrity culture (e.g. Sportsperson, a career in social media and gaming).

•Parents, and other members of extended family, are often the biggest influencer if the respondent indicated that they knew someone personally who did that job. The exception is in developing countries such as Uganda and Zambia, where teacher is often the biggest influence. If a young person did not know someone personally who did that job, TV/Film is the biggest influencer, again with exception of Uganda or Zambia. In all countries, less than 1 per cent of children state they had heard about the job from a volunteer from the world of work coming in to school.

•The survey also revealed that children’s career aspirations have little in common with projected workforce needs – proving that despite government interventions, we are failing to attract young people into careers in future growth sectors and those where there are already significant skills gaps.

‘Drawing the Future demonstrates the need for primary school age children to have more exposure to role models from the world of work from an early age. This is vital to ensure that children better understand the world they are growing up in, are aware of the vast range of career options open to them and are not ruling things out at an early age,’ said Nick Chambers, CEO, Education and Employers. ‘The children’s drawings are also truly fascinating – some showing incredible creativity and artistic ability and giving interesting and insightful reasons for choosing a career – some very thoughtful, others amusing.’

The report was carried out in partnership with OECD Education and Skills, Times Education Supplement, the NAHT and UCL Institute of Education.

The report is available at:

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