Between 1966 and 1977, the social scientist David Chambers asked 4,807 elementary-school children, mostly from Canada and the United States, to draw a scientist. Their illustrations regularly featured white coats, eyeglasses, lab equipment, and books. Often, the depicted scientists exclaimed things like “I made a discovery!” or simply “Wow!” In one memorable case, a third-grader drew a laboratory with a sign that read: “SIKRIT STUFF FOR SIKRIT ENVINSHUNS—SIKRIT.”
The Draw-a-Scientist Test has become a classic piece of social science, and has been repeated many times over the intervening decades to understand how children perceive scientists. But when David Miller, from Northwestern University, looked at Chambers’s original data, published in 1983, one trend leaped out. Of the almost 5,000 drawings produced within the study, just 28 depicted a female scientist, and all of those were drawn by girls. Not a single boy drew a woman.
“When I describe these results to other researchers, they usually take a pessimistic attitude that maybe things haven’t changed that much,” says Miller. But that’s not true. Miller and his colleagues have now analyzed five decades of data from 78 studies, where more than 20,000 children were collectively asked to draw scientists. And they’ve shown that over that period, children have become more likely to draw women scientists. From the 1980s onwards, on average, 28 percent of children drew female scientists, compared to 0.6 percent in Chambers’s original study.