When President Obama called the U.S. women’s soccer team this month to congratulate its players on winning the World Cup, he noted that they had topped their male counterparts in terms of TV viewership—and, “more importantly, inspired a whole new generation of young women” to go out and play.
If only it were so easy to open kids’ minds about women leading in other fields.
According to a new Harvard study—based on data gathered from focus groups, interviews, and several surveys, including one of roughly 20,000 11-to-18-year-old boys and girls from 59 public and private secondary schools—nearly a quarter of girls preferred male over female political leaders. What’s more, when asked about their gender preferences regarding managerial roles in traditionally female sectors, such as childcare, high percentages of the students said they preferred women in those roles. Close to half of the girls surveyed said they favored women as childcare directors, while the other half said they didn’t have a preference and virtually none of them said they favored males in that role.
The study also found that teens have similar preferences when it comes to student leadership. In roughly three-fifths of the schools explored, for example, white girls on average were more likely to support student councils led by white males (versus white females)—a finding that echoes earlier workplace research showing that more women would rather have a male boss than a female one. (The Harvard study analyzed distinctions among respondents based on their race, but highlighted the findings for white students because those statistics contained the most significant differences.)