The Library Springfield-Greene County Library District Springfield, Missouri

Gender Representations in Children’s Picture Books: A Scientific Study

All forms of mass media, including children’s pictures books, reproduce and represent our current society. Picture books help teach children the values of our society, ideas such as 'sharing is good' or 'stealing is bad'. However, picture books teach more than just their topic; they also carry implicit messages of social behavior to the reader, such as gender norms. Gender norms are a culture’s way of telling men and women, or boys and girls, how to act. For instance, it is against our society’s gender norms for men to wear skirts or women to shave their head. Children, in part, learn about what they’re supposed to like and how they’re supposed to act from books, so it’s important to see what those books have to say.

A recent study by professors from Florida State University, the University of Central Florida, New College of Florida, and Indiana University analyzed 5,618 children’s picture books from the 20th century. Here are a couple of their results:

Males are represented more frequently that females in titles as a central character (ex. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone). 36.5 percent of books each year contained a male character while only 17.5 percent included a female character.

The female to male ratio of main characters was 1:1.6; meaning that for every 100 female main characters, the study found 160 male main characters. The ratio was the closest in the 1910s, almost achieving parity, and the further in the 1970s, with male main characters being over 3.5 times more likely to appear that female main characters.

To learn more about the sociology of gender, try some of these books in the library’s catalog.

Male/female roles, by Auriana Ojeda, book editor.



   Same difference : how gender myths are hurting our relationships, our children, and our jobs by Rosalind Barnett and Caryl Rivers. 



 The myth of Mars and Venus by Deborah Cameron. 




To learn more about gender roles in mass media:

  The Lolita effect : the media sexualization of young girls and what we can do about it by M. Gigi Durham.



  Reality bites back : the troubling truth about guilty pleasure tv by Jennifer L. Pozner.




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