Traditional Gender Stereotyping of Parents Persists in Children's Picture Books

By Perry, Susan | MinnPost.com, July 25, 2013 | Go to article overview

Traditional Gender Stereotyping of Parents Persists in Children's Picture Books


Perry, Susan, MinnPost.com


Although 67 percent of American moms now have jobs outside the home and American dads are far more involved in their children's lives than they were even a generation ago, you -- and your children -- will find little evidence of those cultural shifts in children's picture books.

For, according to a recent study, traditional gender stereotyping continues to dominate literature aimed at young children.

Just as they were decades ago, moms are much more likely than dads to be depicted as nurturers and caregivers in picture books, and dads are much more likely than moms to be shown as providers who work outside the home.

The findings surprised the Shepherd University researchers who conducted the study. They had expected the parental roles portrayed in picture books to more closely reflect the changing role realities of the broader U.S. society.

A century of books

For the study, Shepherd University sociologist Amy DeWitt and her colleagues analyzed a random sample of 300 "easy children's books" from the more than 1,400 listed in the 2001 Children's Catalog, which is compiled by a committee of librarians and used to help school and community libraries select quality books for their collections.

The sample included 50 books from the years 1900 through 1959, 50 from each of the final four decades of the 20th century ('60s, '70s, '80s and '90s), and 50 from the year 2000. (Only 50 were chosen from the first 59 years of the 20th century because of the smaller number of children's books published during that period and because the researchers predicted that traditional parent roles had remained somewhat stable during that time frame.)

For the analysis, DeWitt and her colleagues made notes on the actions taken by parents in the books. Those actions were broken down into five separate behavioral categories: nurturing (such as expressing affection for or praising the child), disciplining (such as scolding or spanking the child), caregiving (such as cooking for or bathing the child), companionship (such as playing with the child), and providing (working outside the home).

Stubborn stereotypes

The researchers were not surprised to find that gender stereotyping of parental roles was common throughout the literature. But they were surprised to find that those stereotypes softened only slightly by the start of the 21st century.

"Mothers in the books were more likely than fathers to perform almost every nurturing behavior, including verbal and physical expressions of love, encouraging, praising and listening," write DeWitt and her colleagues.

Mothers were also three times more likely to be shown cooking, feeding, cleaning and dressing children. …

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