Gender bias in personal name usage in texts that children read and those that they write

Gender bias in personal name usage in texts that children read and those that they write

First Author: Kate Nation -- University of Oxford
Additional authors/chairs: 
Yaling Hsiao
Keywords: Print Exposure, Reading, Writing, Gender Differences
Abstract / Summary: 

Previous studies show that depiction about gender is unequally presented in children’s books. This study investigates gender bias in personal name usage in the texts children read and how it is reflected in children’s own writing.

Method -
We used the Oxford Children’s Corpus, which contains both texts written for children and by 5-13 year-old children (35 and 46 million words, respectively). We examined the distributions of male and female names in the two corpora by matching all proper names with male and female baby names registered with the UK Office of National Statistics.

Results –
In books written by adults for children we found more male names than female names (64% vs 36%). For over 200 years, female authors showed a larger increase of female name usage than male authors, who continue to be biased across time. In children’s own writing there was overall less bias (54% vs 46%). However, boy writers mentioned overwhelmingly more male than female names (84% vs 16%), whereas the bias was flipped for girl writers (37% vs 63%) but to a lesser degree. The children’s age also interacted with their gender: girl writers increasingly used more male names as they got older while boy writers remained biased towards using male names.

Conclusions –
Reading experience provides children with greater exposure to male characters than female ones. This bias is largely driven by the writing of male authors. This is reflected in children’s own writing and particularly so for boys. These findings highlight a need for gender fair language to be used in children’s reading books.