Do children consider gender to be more important than race?

How do children see their own identity in relation to race and gender equality? A new study reveals that children do not perceive race and gender equally: gender is more important for the children’s identity than race.  

In a study, conducted by University of Washington, 222 children aged 7-12 were interviewed. They came from three radically diverse public schools in Tacoma, Washington, and none of the schools had more than 50 percent of one racial group.

“Me” or “Not me”
Children were shown  a number of cards with different identity labels. These identity labels included: boy, girl, son, daughter, student, Asian, Hispanic, Black, White, and Athlete. The children were asked to place the cards in either a “me” pile or a “not me” pile,  if the card described them or not. Subsequently, the children were asked to rank the “me” cards on a three-point scale according to how important they found the different racial and gender identities. The ranking consisted of following three categories: “not much”, “a little bit” or “a lot”. The ranking of the gender and race were done separately so that the children could rate them as equally important.
Furthermore, the children were also asked more open questions such as: “What does it mean to be a (boy/girl)? “ and “What does it mean to be black/white/mixed?”. All the responses to the questions were, hereafter, sorted into five broad categories including physical appearance, inequality and group difference, equality or sameness, family, and pride and positive traits. Since the categories were not mutually exclusive, each question could be placed in multiple categories.

Race is the least important for the children’s identity
The result revealed that in average the most important identity on the “me/not me” score was the identity of being a son or a daughter. The second most important identity was to be a student followed by the gender and athlete identity. The lowest rate on the “me/not me” score was the race identity, which was the least important identity for the children.
In addition, the meaning that had to do with gender identities tended to focus on inequality and group differences while the meaning of race focused more on physical appearance and equality.

Results revealed that the most important identity, was the identity of being a son or a daughter


Social background affects the perception of different identities
Children from different minorities ranked the importance of race differently. In general, the black and mixed children considered race as more important than the white children. About half of the black and mixed children ranked race as “a lot” or “a little” important, while 89% of the white children ranked race as “not important to their identity”. Furthermore, the black and mixed children also mentioned racial pride as more important than the white children did.

The study also showed variations between the different gender’s perceptions of identities. For boys, the family identity was less important than for girls. Boys also ranked being an athlete higher than girls did, and black boys ranked athletics higher than all the other children. Though, there was no difference in how important gender was to both boys and girls but the girls mentioned physical appearance as part of their gender identity more often than boys.

Author: Frida Kruse Lind

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