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UW Researchers Find Kids Assign More Importance To Gender Than Race

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
In this photo taken Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, Nuray Bolat, left, and Ocean Epling briefly tussle over a toy at the Creative Kids Learning Center, a school that focuses on pre-kindergarten for 4- and 5-year-olds, in Seattle.

Understanding who we are and what our role in society is essential for all of us. But when exactly do we start figuring that out?

New research shows it could be well before high school, and even as early as the second grade. The study from the University of Washington focused on 136 girls and 86 boys in three Tacoma-area schools. The students were black, white, Asian and mixed-race.

Researchers asked the kids questions about how they categorize themselves in their daily lives, and how important those roles are to them. And the study shows those children are assigning more importance to their gender than their race. Onnie Roger is a lead researcher for the study and spoke with 88.5's Ariel Van Cleave.

Interview Highlights

On being surprised by results: "I thought that there would be more engagement from students around race. And I was surprised at how consistently race was viewed as not important and not something that should be talked about, essentially."

On what it means to be a boy/girl: "When I evaluated the meaning that kids ascribe to race and gender, so I asked them, 'What do you think it means to be a girl? Or, 'What do you think it means to be a boy?' That was in respect to their own gender. So the clear gender difference that I find in that analysis is that girls are far more likely than boys to define gender in terms of physical appearance. The other way that I really detected gender differences ... in two of the other identities I measured, which was the family identify and the athlete identity, girls were much more likely to rank their family identity higher than boys. And on the athlete identify it was the opposite."

On the use of this research in everyday life: "This colorblind ideology, this idea that everyone's the same and race doesn't matter, is a really powerful narrative ... but there's a way in which that same narrative has become a scapegoat. It's not that kids don't know these racial categories; it's not that their not aware that race exists; They have just learned that this is not something that can be talked about. As adults that should raise our own awareness of what are the implications of that. Because of the gender differences and the way that kids are thinking about gender and race, it's a reminder to us as adults to be aware of the stereotypes and the socialization messages that kids are receiving."

Ariel first entered a public radio newsroom in 2004 while in school at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. It was love at first sight. After graduating from Bradley, she went on to earn a Master's degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. Ariel has lived in Indiana, Ohio and Alaska reporting on everything from salmon spawning to policy issues concerning education. She's been a host, a manager and now rides shotgun with Kirsten Kendrick as the Morning Edition producer at KNKX.

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