The Roots of Gender Gaps in STEM: Children’s Stereotypes about Intellectual Ability

Abstract: Common stereotypes associate high-level, “raw” intellectual ability (brilliance, genius, etc.) with men more than women. These stereotypes discourage women’s pursuit of many prestigious careers, including those in science and engineering. But the roots of these disparities stretch back to childhood: In my talk, I will present evidence suggesting that “brilliance = men” stereotypes are acquired early—almost as soon as children enter school—and become stronger with age. Once acquired, gender stereotypes about raw ability begin to erode girls’ confidence that they can succeed in domains where such ability is valued; they also predict girls’ lower interest in such domains. These findings suggest that gendered notions of brilliance are acquired early and are likely to play a role in shaping the gender gaps observed in STEM.

Andrei CimpianAndrei Cimpian earned a PhD in psychology from Stanford University in 2008 and is now Associate Professor of Psychology at New York University. One of his main areas of expertise is academic achievement and motivation. Among other topics, he has investigated common cultural beliefs about intellectual ability—including stereotypes about who has such ability—and the effects these beliefs have on young people’s aspirations and achievement. In a second line of work, Dr. Cimpian investigates the development of children’s concepts of natural kinds and social groups, and their explanations for what they observe in the world. Dr. Cimpian’s research has been published in top journals such as Science, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, and Psychological Science, earning him the 2018 American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology. Media outlets such as The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, NPR, and The Economist have covered his work.

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