Story at a glance

  • A new study revealed that main characters in children’s books are still most often male.
  • Professors at Princeton University and Emory University analyzed over 3,000 children's books published over the last 60 years for the study.
  • Although the bias towards male lead characters was slight, study authors still worry about how the disparity might impact young girls.

Main characters in children’s books are still overwhelmingly male, a recent study found. 

Academics from Princeton and Emory University analyzed 3,280 books written for children up to 16 years of age over the last 60 years that could be bought online in the United States for the study which was published on PLOS ONE. 

“While gender bias in children’s books appears to have declined significantly over the years, we found that bias remains,” the study’s main author Stella Lourenco, Emory University associate professor of psychology said in a statement. “We worry about what this mismatch communicates to children, particularly to girls.  It’s concerning because disproportionate gender representation in children’s books may contribute to the persistence of biases in society.”


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Lourcenco and her colleagues found that the bias toward male protagonists was slight with a rate of 1.2 male main characters for every female one in a book published during the last decade. But researchers also found that overall male authors were three times as likely to write a book with a male protagonist compared to a female one, according to the study. 

“We hope our data can provide insights for parents and teachers,” Lourenco added. “We also hope that publishers see our results and do what they can to encourage more equitable gender representation in children’s books.”

The study also found that non-fiction books were more likely to feature a male protagonist than fiction books and that male character bias was higher in fiction about non-human characters than in fiction with human characters, according to a release. 

In addition, the number of books written by male authors focused on a female protagonist grew over time but only in books targeted toward younger children. Meanwhile, the number of books written by female authors featuring a male protagonist decreased over time and female authors “overrepresented female characters” in books aimed at older children, according to the study. But female writers still favored male lead characters in books with non-human characters. 


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Published on Dec 16, 2021