Great Progress Has Been Made But Males Are Still More Likely to Be the Lead Characters in Children’s Books

A new study by scholars at Emory University in Atlanta and Princeton University in New Jersey finds that a slight bias remains toward male protagonists in children’s books — despite an overall trend for an increasing proportion of female leads.

The progress toward gender equality had been remarkable. In a study of children’s books over the past 60 years, male protagonists outnumber female protagonists by a margin of 3 to 1. However, in the last decade, males outnumber females by just 1.2 to 1.

The results showed that non-fiction books have a greater degree of gender bias for males than do fiction books. And male character bias is higher for fiction featuring non-human characters than for fiction with human characters. Female authors still continue to favor male leads in books with non-human protagonists.

“While gender bias in children’s books appears to have declined significantly over the years, we found that bias remains,” says Stella Lourenco, Emory associate professor of psychology and senior author of the study. “We worry about what this mismatch communicates to children, particularly to girls. It’s concerning because disproportionate gender representation in children’s books may contribute to the persistence of biases in society.

“Children’s stories are incredibly important to a child’s development,” Dr. Lourenco added. “Exposure to books is a form of enculturation, in addition to building language and reading skills. Children look to stories for inspiration and for role models.”

Dr. Lourenco joined the faculty at Emory University in 2007. She is a graduate of the University of Toronto and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.

The lead author of the study is Kennedy Casey, who did the work through an internship in the Lourenco lab while she was an undergraduate at Princeton University. Kylee Novick, an Emory senior in the Lourenco lab, is co-author of the paper.

The full study, “Sixty Years of Gender Representation in Children’s Books: Conditions Associated With Overrepresentation of Male Versus Female Protagonists,” was published on PLOS One. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


RSSComments (0)

Leave a Reply