London: Gender stereotypes regarding mathematics may develop as early as the second grade, says a new study.
Children applied the stereotype to themselves: boys identified themselves with the subject, whereas girls did not.
The "maths is for boys" stereotype has been used as part of the explanation for why so few women pursue science, maths and engineering careers.
The cultural stereotype may nudge girls to think that "maths is not for me", which can affect what activities they engage in and their career aspirations, the journal Child Development reports.
The study suggests that for girls, lack of interest in maths may come from culturally-communicated messages about maths being more appropriate for boys than for girls, the researchers said, according to a University of Washington statement.
But the stereotype that girls don't do math was odd to lead author Dario Cvencek, born and raised in the former Yugoslavia.
"We didn't have that stereotype where I grew up," said Cvencek, post-doctoral fellow at the University of Washington Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences. "People there thought that math went with girls just as much as it did with boys."
"Our results show that cultural stereotypes about math are absorbed strikingly early in development," said co-author Andrew Meltzoff, psychology professor and Cvencek's counterpart.