Newswise — As parents of any 8-year-old will tell you, fairness matters to kids. However, new research from investigators at Saint Joseph’s University, shows that perceived fairness is impacted by gender norms. The results were published online in Social Development, a Wiley Journal.
“Children are keenly sensitive to fairness and equity,” said author Clare Conry-Murray, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Saint Joseph’s. “However, the results showed that children aged 7 to 9 assume gender will predict preferences, which could mean that children will not always challenge unequal treatment of boys and girls.”
The study used interviews with children ages 7, 9 and 11, as well as college students. Study participants were asked to judge the fairness of giving different and unequal toys to boys and girls in a classroom and then asked to justify their thinking. The children were also asked to rate whether the class would like the toys.
Children age 7 to 9 often approved of giving unequal toys to boys and girls, justifying their responses with references to gender norms 58 percent of the time when the toys were consistent with those norms (like a big Lego set for boys and a small bottle of nail polish for girls). However, when the toys were gender neutral (like stuffed animals of different sizes), children were more critical of the distributions and fairness was the most common justification at 30 percent.
“When we asked the children why a particular distribution was okay, they mentioned gender norms most often when the items were gendered, but fairness most often when the items were gender neutral,” said Conry-Murray.
Conry-Murray’s previous research shows that kids strongly prioritize fairness, while this is one of the few studies that shows kids overlooking concerns with fairness when gender norms get in the way. “Parents should know that kids may not complain about unfair treatment if it is based on gender norms,” she said. “That means adults have a big responsibility to make sure that boys and girls are treated fairly and get equal opportunities. Adults can also help children see that gender norms don’t always reflect personal preferences.”
The author reports no conflicts of interest or funding sources for this research.
Founded in 1851 in the Jesuit tradition of academic excellence, Saint Joseph’s University is a top-ranked Catholic University that provides a rigorous, student-centered education. With a total enrollment of 8,500 undergraduate and graduate students, SJU offers a wide array of academic programs designed so that each graduate enters the world with a competitive resume and global perspective. This is achieved through intense academic study led by thought-leading faculty scholars, a comprehensive campus experience and robust study abroad, service-learning, internship and co-op programs. Upon graduation, nearly 100 percent of students are employed, pursuing advanced degrees or volunteering in prestigious service programs. A member of the Atlantic 10 Conference, SJU offers 20 Division I intercollegiate men’s and women’s sports. SJU alumni — over 68,000 strong — provide a powerful network that spans the globe.
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