Five-year-old children are 'sexist' but it wear off as they grow up, study finds

Caroline Allen
·Contributor
·2 min read
The sexism might be seen as a social norm. (Getty Images)
The sexism might be seen as a social norm. (Getty Images)

Five-year-old children have inherent sexism that wears off as they grow up, a new study has found.

The research found that the negative views children hold about women do disappear as children get older, but the type of well-meaning sexism only diminishes for girls.

Boys, however, can hold onto seemingly ‘positive’ sexist views for longer, which can still be noticed aged 11.

The study from New York University found that young boys who think they’re being chivalrous may view women as helpless - which is a type of behaviour that can last into adulthood.

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The study looks at two types of sexism; hostile sexism and benevolent sexism. The latter is described as inoffensive but still enforces the narrative that women are deemed as less able in comparison to men.

Although most people - including parents - will notice signs of hostile sexism and stop them in their tracks, benevolent sexism is a little harder to detect.

As a result, it can often go undetected, leaving girls and women feeling patronised.

The lead author, Dr Andrei Cimpian explains: “It might seem cute when a boy acts in chivalrous ways toward girls, or when a girl pretends to be a princess who's waiting for a prince to rescue her.

“Many times, this is just play, with no deeper meaning.

“But other times, these behaviours – even though they may seem inoffensive – might signal that children view women in a negative light, as weak, incompetent and unable to survive or thrive without a man's help.”

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People who hold primarily hostile views can still hold benevolent views, too. It’s not one or the other.

To find out more about this behaviour, researchers studied more than 200 children aged five to 11 in New York City and Urbana-Champaign in Illinois, US.

The children were asked to answer statements. The statements were clear indicators of different types of sexism.

These statements include things like “men need to protect women from danger” which indicate a benevolent type of sexism.

“Women get more upset than men about small things” is seen as a hostile statement.

While these hostile behaviours do fade away, the benevolent ones of the boys do not.

Dr Cimpian believes this is because children are surrounded with this type of behaviour as a social norm from an early age.

“Boys may be less likely to recognise that their benevolent attitudes toward women are, in fact, patronising.

'“For instance, they may hold on to the belief that men ought to protect women because this view is in line with social norms and may be reinforced throughout their upbringing.”

Dr Cimpian suggests that now - during the coronavirus lockdown - provides parents with a perfect opportunity to subtly teach them the harmful nature of benevolent sexism.