How widespread are gender stereotypes in the younger generations and where do they originate? Two studies conducted by the National Research Council (CNR) in schools help shed light on this phenomenon. They show that there is a strong adherence of boys and girls to the idea that there exist rigidly differentiated social roles between men and women and that adherence decreases in the transition period between childhood and adolescence. In particular, the data show how gender stereotypes are still strongly transmitted within families and underline the role of schools in combating them.
The data were collected through two surveys: the first survey involved a total of 410 boys and girls from primary schools in Rome’s districts VI and VIII; the second survey involved more than 2,500 adolescents from high schools across Italy.
The surveys were carried out by Osservatorio sulle tendenze giovanili (OTG) (observatory on youth trends), co-managed by the Institute for Research on Population and Social Policies of the National Research Council (CNR-IRPPS) and the Department for Family Policies of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers.
The young respondents were asked to indicate whether boys or girls performed certain roles or activities better or whether gender was irrelevant. “The analysis of the results shows a medium-high level of adherence among children to traditional male (58.6%) and female (52.9%) roles, i.e. to the idea that being a policeman, a president, a scientist or the leader at work are male roles, whereas cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping and caring for children are female roles”, commented Antonio Tintori,CNR-IRPPS.
“The level of adherence to traditional male gender roles is higher among boys (25.6% boys and 18.2% girls), while the level of adherence to traditional female gender roles is higher among girls (22.5% girls and 17.8% boys). In the adolescent group, the results show medium-high levels of adherence to male gender roles (28.3%) and female gender roles (30.8%) that are well below the levels observed in primary schools. The level of adherence to gender roles is always higher among boys: adherence to male roles (13.1% boys and 1.9% girls); adherence to female roles (16.7% boys and 6.4% girls)”.
The survey, carried out using indicators as part of the Mutamenti Sociali, Valutazione e Metodi (MUSA) (social changes, assessment and methods) research activities, also suggests that schools have an important role in countering sexist beliefs and attitudes transmitted within families.
“As the data show, the idea of the existence of predetermined and rigid gender roles, with men in top positions and women providing care and family assistance, is acquired in the early years of life through primary socialization and interpretive categories in a stereotyped social context. Inequalities are strongly reproduced in the family environment where young children are affected, also through imitation, by social conditioning, which appears to decrease as the age increases, but more so in females than in males. Therefore school education plays a crucial role in the elimination of constraints that compromise well-being and gender equality, as well as economic development,” concluded Tintori.