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 gender roles affect young people. 

How much do young people hold onto gender norms? How does it affect their happiness?

Published:

gender roles

young woman playing football

Tough boys and caring girls

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

We asked children what kind of attributes they thought their friends would say is the most important in boys and girls.

For both boys and girls, ‘being good-looking’ is the 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

32%

of boys 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 stereotypes?

These findings show that many young people are living in highly gendered environments, and place emphasis on traditional male or female stereotypes in their everyday lives.

This has a clear 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.

In fact, across the whole study it was found that children whose friendship group emphasises traditional gender roles and stereotypes have lower well-being than others.

In contrast, children who chose the relatively gender-neutral trait, ‘working hard at school’, as the most important quality scored highest for well-being.

Girls gender roles quote

I feel judged all the time based on what I wear

– secondary school girl
Gender roles blog quote

Appearance and expectations

The pressure of gender stereotypes is underlined by comments about young people’s appearance at school. 95% of young people say 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, but it’s also clear that young people are forced to fit in with society’s expectations of them.

As this pressure mounts, we all have responsibility to build a more inclusive and accepting society. Growing up should be about discovery and diversity. This will help build a brighter future for children and young people.

* 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.