What’s stopping you? The contribution of gender essentialism to sex differences in subject choice


  • Japinder Dhesi


The present study considered the impact of gender essentialism on sex differences in subject choice. Secondary school children, aged 11-12 years (N = 30) and 15-16 years (N = 26), were randomly assigned to one of three experimental conditions, and completed a thought experiment requiring them to make inferences about two gendered attributes; academic subject ability and gender-stereotyped properties, of a hypothetical male and female; (a) raised in an opposite sex environment; (b) following a brain transplant from a member of the opposite sex and (c) a 'normal' male or female, acting as a baseline response. Results from the experiment indicated that children do hold essentialist beliefs about gender. However, such beliefs vary as a function of both the age of participants, and the gendered attribute considered. We conclude that gender essentialism may account for the persistence of sex differences in subject choice.