Children as young as 5 have gender bias when it comes to picking a musical instrument

Ask children what musical instruments they would like to play and boys invariably will pick something like the trumpet, drums or saxophone while girls tend to favor the violin, clarinet or flute.

These gender-based choices seem to be so embedded that researchers have now shown that children as young as 5 exhibit stereotypical preferences when it comes to musical instruments.

Reporting in the current issue of the journal Sex Roles, University of Washington researcher Betty Repacholi said these gender-based preferences are considerably more fixed among boys than they are in girls. Even when some of the children in the study were exposed to an intervention, boys were far more resistant to change their gender-based choices.

"Girls become more flexible as they get older, but boys mostly pick masculine instruments. They just cannot pick a feminine instrument. It is so hard for them that it just astounds me," she said.

How these stereotypes develop is unknown. It could be based on the size or shape of an instrument or the sound it makes, Repacholi said.

"What makes a flute a feminine instrument its high-pitched sound and delicate look? And is a trumpet masculine because it sounds deeper and louder? Making gender-based choices can restrict what children, all people, do in life."

Repacholi, who is a research associate with the UW's Center for Mind, Brain & Learning, and co-author Samantha Pickering, now a doctoral student at the University of Sydney in Australia, knew that in the 1970s childhood instrument preferences had been noted among third and fourth graders. After nearly three decades of increasingly equal opportunities for women in many countries, the researchers wondered if these gender-based stereotypes still existed, if they occurred in younger children and if they could be modified.

To explore these questions, the researchers recruited more than 600 kindergarten and fourth-grade Australian school

Contact: Joel Schwarz
University of Washington

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