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