Gender Bias in Children’s Books

I don’t think that any children’s librarian is going to be surprised by the findings of a recent study of children’s books.  The most comprehensive study of 20th century children’s literature ever done, it revealed a bias towards books that feature boys and men.  Intriguingly, the bias was also present when the characters are animals.

Now, if you has asked me if more books featured boys or girls, I would have automatically answered boys.  I am surprised by the extent of the bias as well as the fact that it had not gotten any better towards the end of the 20th century.  In other words, we aren’t making much progress with gender in children’s books!

Science Daily has some bulleted points in their article about the study that I find particularly interesting:

  • Males are central characters in 57 percent of children’s books published per year, while only 31 percent have female central characters.
  • On average, 36.5 percent of books in each year studied include a male in the title, compared to 17.5 percent that include a female.

While I find the information interesting and important, even more important to me is what we do about it.  It seems to me that it is the same issue we have with all sorts of diversity in children’s books:  races, colors, sexual orientation.  So the question is universal about featuring children and adults in children’s books that speak to all levels of diversity.

What do we do as librarians who are cultivating collections for children? What do we do as book creators to get more girls and even women into our books?  How do we all take responsibility for what children in our world are reading and therefore learning about how society works?

Big thanks to Hedgehog Librarian for the link.

6 thoughts on “Gender Bias in Children’s Books

    1. I’d definitely agree about the teen books being focused on girl characters. Not so sure about the chapter books. What does every think? Is there a girl bias in teen and chapter books?

      1. And by chapter books, I am referring to the first chapter books like Amelia, and Cam Jansen, and Junie B Jones… all girls and what I see most frequently given by teachers in the early grades. I also feel that 57% is not an overwhelming gender bias. It is pretty close to half and I would love to see the same percentage for the chapter, tween and YA. I can only go by what I see in my public library. Boy books are not non-existent, but certainly much more challenging to find. Thanks for listening!

  1. Ah yes, those young chapter books, I see what you mean. On the boys side we do have Stink, Captain Underpants, and Poppleton. Ah, Poppleton, one of my favorite series for those beginning readers.

  2. The thing I would add to that is that it seems that many of the girls are passive if they are main characters. Things happen TO them. Or it’s about what they look like or them examining themselves. Boy characters DO things and make things happen. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but that’s the feeling I’ve had for a long time. I’ve been actively searching out books that aren’t like that for my now 5 year old girl. I also don’t want books that make the girls active but then make a big deal out of it as if it’s unusual… off my soapbox now.

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