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How gender roles and stereotypes affect young people

Gender identity is a hot topic. Through social media, film, news stories, we are learning more about what gender means and how ideas of traditional gender roles affect young people. 

How much do young people hold onto gender norms? How do stereotypes on children affect their happiness?

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gender roles

young woman playing football

Tough boys and caring girls

Our Good Childhood Report showed what young people across the UK think about traditional gender roles and stereotypes, and how it can affect their happiness.

We asked children what features they thought their friends would say are the most important in boys and girls.

For both boys and girls, ‘being good-looking’ was the clear standout characteristic. For girls, ‘being caring’ was second most important, whereas for boys, it was ‘being funny’.

how many young boys feel like they need to be tough?

44%

of girls said being good-looking was most important

1 in 8

of the young people we interviewed said that ‘being tough’ is important in boys

What's the harm in gender stereotypes?

It is clear many young people are living in gendered environments, and are affected by traditional male or female stereotypes day in day out.

These perceived gender norms impact on young people's well-being. Children who chose ‘being tough’ as the most important trait for boys, or ‘having good clothes’ as the most important trait for girls, are shown to have the lowest well-being across the group. 

On the other hand, children who chose ‘working hard at school’ as the most important quality scored highest for well-being.

young man yellow hoody giving piggyback to girl happy

Improving young people's well‑being

We want young people to be happy and feel good about themselves, to be able to fight and not give up. That's why we're calling on the Government to put children's well-being at the top of the political agenda.

Appearance and expectations

Gender roles in society can create certain expectations, and the pressure of gender stereotypes can often get ugly. Almost all the young people we spoke to said they have heard jokes or comments being made about other people’s bodies or looks.

It’s like girls are expected to fulfil certain ridiculous expectations.

The more a girl is exposed to these kind of jokes or comments, the more unhappy they are with their appearance. 

Time for change

It’s clear that gender roles and stereotypes are engrained in children’s lives from a young age and accordingly forced to fit in with society’s expectations of them.

We all have responsibility to build a more inclusive and accepting society. Growing up should be about discovery and diversity. We campaign to overturn the decline in children's well-being and build a brighter future for their whole generation.

* To note: the study shows trends only in young people who identify as male or female. A small number of young people interviewed (0.3%) identified as trans or preferred not to say, which is too small to analyse separately.