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Gender Bias

Differences in the treatment of males and females.

Gender bias, and its corollary, gender equity, describe the comparison of opportunities and treatment available to males with those available to females. Today, gender bias is observed and discussed in societies and cultures worldwide. Parents and teachers of young people are especially concerned with unequal treatment of boys and girls, particularly the effect these differences have on child development. Economic development professionals have observed that, from subsistence to advanced economies, women are assigned different workloads, have different responsibilities for child and family welfare, and receive different rewards for performance.

In the United States, the Education Amendments of 1972 were passed by the U.S. Congress. These included Title IX, introduced by Representative Edith Green of Oregon, requiring educational institutions that receive federal funds to provide equal opportunities in all activities for girls and boys. Title IX applies to all schools, public and private, that receive money from the federal government, from kindergarten through higher education.

However, in 1992 a study published by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) revealed that enforcement of this law has been lax nationwide. The AAUW's report, "How Schools Shortchange Girls," which compiled results from hundreds of research studies and articles on gender bias at every educational level, concluded that schools continue to perpetuate subtle discrimination against girls, stereotyping them as studious and well-behaved, while more aggressive students, usually the boys, may receive more attention from the teacher. Additionally, a 1989 study of books used in high school literature classes found that 90 percent of the most frequently assigned books were written by males; a year later, an evaluation of school textbooks specifically written to comply with gender-equity guidelines in California revealed lingering bias toward males in both language usage and in accounts of historical milestones.

Female students are affected by gender bias in many subtle but significant ways. Girls have lower expectations for their success in math and science; are more likely to attribute academic success to luck rather than to ability, and are more likely to equate academic failure to lack of ability (boys are more likely to attribute failure to lack of effort). Boys are more likely that girls to challenge the teacher when they do not agree with an answer. Generally, girls earn higher grades than boys, but boys outperform girls on standardized tests. Boys with higher SAT scores are more likely than girls with equal or better grades to be awarded academic scholarships.

The ramifications of gender bias are not limited to the educational arena. Researchers have shown that in most cultures the lack of decision-making power among females regarding sexual and economic matters contributes to population growth and confines women to subservient roles to men—usually their fathers, and later, their husbands. Although women make up 45 percent of the workforce in the United States, 60 percent of professional women are in traditionally female occupations such as nursing and teaching.

Gender stereotypes defining appropriate activities and behavior for men and women are prevalent in every culture, even though they may differ slightly from culture to culture. Awareness of the existence of these biases will help to overcome their negative effects.

Further Reading

Childs, Ruth Axman. Gender Bias and Fairness. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Texts, Measurement, and Evaluation, 1990.

Gay, Kathleen. Rights and Respect: What You Need to Know About Gender Bias. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1995.

Walker, Michael. "Gender Bias: Is Your Daughter's School Prepping Her for Failure?" Better Homes and Gardens (April 1993): 40+.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Dictionary: Kenneth John William Craik Biography to Jami (Mulla Nuruddin ʼAbdurrahman ibn-Ahmad Biography