Girls as young as four think they’re more clever and better behaved than boys, research has found. By the age of seven, boys have started believing this too.


The study from the University of Kent suggests that teachers and parents add to these stereotypes, by using phrases such as “silly boys” and “why can’t you sit nicely like the girls?”

This summer’s GCSE results revealed that the gap between girls’ and boys’ results is widening, with 72.6% of girls passing at A* to C, compared with 65.4% of boys.

However, the research suggests that girls may be doing better just because they believe their teacher thinks they’ll get higher results. Boys, on the other hand, may not reach their full potential, believing that their teacher has lower expectations of them.

The study questioned 238 children between the age of four and ten. The children were shown a picture of a girl and a picture of a boy and then had to fit statements, such as ‘this child is really clever’ and ‘this child sits very quietly, to the most appropriate picture.

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Girls of all ages said girls were cleverer, performed better and were more focused. Boys aged four to seven matched the statements evenly between girls and boys. However, once the boys reached seven and eight, they shared the opinions of the girls – that girls were more able and more focused.

“There are signs that these expectations have the potential to become self-fulfilling in influencing children’s actual conduct and achievement,” warned one of the key researchers Bonny Hartley.


Do you ever find yourself saying things like “Why don’t you sit still like your sister?” or “Why do you boys always have to fight?”. We confess we do in the MFM office (when we’re at home not in the office – you know what we mean). Let us know the most sexist thing you’ve said to your son or daughter…


Susie Boone, Editorial Director MadeForMums
Susie BooneEditorial Director, MadeForMums