Negative gender stereotypes are harming boys’ reading skills, according to a new study released on Wednesday.
Published in the journal Child Development, the study might be the first to ever investigate how students’ stereotypical assumptions about boys’ reading skills affect students’ reading outcomes. Teachers and parents perpetuate these negative gender stereotypes in the classroom, the study, entitled “Do Girls Read Better Than Boys? If So, Gender Stereotypes May Be to Blame,” said.
While girls benefited when their peers shared positive beliefs about their reading abilities, boys were less motivated and their performance suffered if student stereotypes suggested boys had weaker reading abilities.
Reading is first stereotyped as a skill women excel in, which causes boys to discredit their reading capabilities, and lose motivation, lead study author Francesca Muntoni, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Hamburg, told CNN.
"A key merit of our study is that we have this focus on real world stereotype effects,” co-author of the study Jan Retelsdorf, an educational psychologist at the University of Hamburg in Germany, said.
Researchers studied the impact of gender stereotypes about reading in the classroom instead of in a lab, Retelsdorf explained.
More than 1,500 students, 49% of whom were girls, from 60 classrooms in Germany from fifth to sixth grade participated. Researchers surveyed the students about their reading motivation and confidence and then tested their skills. A year and a half later, the students took another reading test that measured their skills and level of enjoyment.
Test results suggested that boys who believed reading stereotypes were much less likely to feel confident in their reading abilities and were not as motivated as girls to read. If negative gender stereotypes about reading were upheld in the classroom, boys’ self-esteem, motivation, and ability to read suffered at a higher rate than if the beliefs were not upheld in school.
All the boys surveyed who were in classes that leaned into the stereotype that girls are better at reading were also less motivated to read and had less confidence in their skills. Boys in the sixth grade in this kind of environment had worse test scores than the boys in fifth grade.
Additional studies have found that across the US and many European countries, women are more likely to enroll in college and graduate than men, Retelsdorf said.
Although negative gendered reading stereotypes disproportionately impact boys, literacy is the lowest in the least developed countries and higher among males than females.
To ensure that all students reach their full reading potential, Retelsdorf recommends teachers and parents work to create environments where individual development is the focus and all children, regardless of their gender, are encouraged to read.