Gender Bias in Mothers’ Expectations About Infant Crawling 

 “Mothers expect their girls to fail when the probability of success is 100% and expect their boys to succeed when the probability of success is 0%.”

Written by Sandra Zigic (ACE and RILEY apprentice) 

 

baby crawling, gender bias in physical development, girls in stem

 

Motor milestones are key to a child’s development as they indicate certain motor skills that should be attained by a particular age. These include the time points at which a child learns to achieve skills such as reach, sit, crawl, and walk, etc. Boys are usually seen as being stronger and more physically active than girls, so do boys reach these milestones earlier than girls? The answer is no. It’s not until after the infancy period that boys begin to surpass girls in physical development and ability. Are these differences a result solely of biology (nature) or does environment (nurture) play a significant role?

This study found that there was no significant difference in crawling abilities, crawling attempts, nor motor decisions (ability to tell whether a slope is safe or risky) between infant girls and boys.

 However, mothers’ expectations were inaccurate on every measure – overestimating all the abilities of the boys and underestimating all the abilities of the girls. “Mothers expect their girls to fail when the probability of success is 100% and expect their boys to succeed when the probability of success is 0%.” 

 In the study, Mothers were asked to estimate their infants’ crawling ability and crawling attempts 

  • “What is the steepest slope your baby can really crawl down successfully, without any help and without falling or sliding?” 
  • “What is the steepest slope your baby will attempt to crawl down, regardless of whether he/she will fall or require assistance?”  

Mothers estimated that girls could only crawl up a slope of 14 degrees and that boys could crawl up a slope of 19 degrees. However, the study found that there were no significant differences in crawling abilities, crawling attempts, or accuracy of motor decisions between girls and boys.  (i.e., girls could crawl up the same slope that boys could).

 Overall, mother’s expectations were inaccurate on every measure, overestimating all the abilities of the boys and underestimating all the abilities of the girls.

 So where does this gender bias come from? There are a few possible reasons. Mothers’ expectations may have been guided by slight physical and behavioural differences seen between boys and girls, leading to a difficulty in predicting how the infants would behave.

Additionally, they may have already anticipated gender differences that are yet to come when infants grow up. 

This study wasn’t even originally designed to study gender bias, but the study itself showed how significant this bias was present among all the mothers. Our girls are capable of so much more than many of us believe, and it is important that we begin acknowledging that by providing them equally opportunities to develop physically and cognitively during early childhood.

  

From the Abstract

“Although boys outshine girls in a range of motor skills, there are no reported gender differences in motor performance during infancy. This study examined gender bias in mothers' expectations about their infants' motor development. Mothers of 11-month-old infants estimated their babies' crawling ability, crawling attempts, and motor decisions in a novel locomotor task-crawling down steep and shallow slopes. Mothers of girls underestimated their performance and mothers of boys overestimated their performance. Mothers' gender bias had no basis in fact. When we tested the infants in the same slope task moments after mothers' provided their ratings, girls and boys showed identical levels of motor performance.”

 

Mondschein, E. R., Adolph, K. E., & Tamis-LeMonda, C. S. (2000). Gender bias in mothers' expectations about infant crawling. Journal of experimental child psychology77(4), 304–316. https://doi.org/10.1006/jecp.2000.2597

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