What We Teach About Race and Gender: Representation in Images and Text of Children’s Books

94 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2021 Last revised: 30 Jul 2021

See all articles by Anjali Adukia

Anjali Adukia

University of Chicago

Alex Eble

Columbia University

Emileigh Harrison

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy

Hakizumwami Birali Runesha

University of Chicago

Teodora Szasz

University of Chicago

Date Written: July 29, 2021

Abstract

Books shape how children learn about society and social norms, in part through the representation of different characters. To better understand the messages children encounter in books, we introduce new artificial intelligence methods for systematically converting images into data. We apply these image tools, along with established text analysis methods, to measure the representation of race, gender, and age in children’s books commonly found in US schools and homes over the last century. We find that more characters with darker skin color appear over time, but “mainstream” award-winning books, which are twice as likely to be checked out from libraries, persistently depict more lighter-skinned characters even after conditioning on perceived race. Across all books, children are depicted with lighter skin than adults. Over time, females are increasingly present but are more represented in images than in text, suggesting greater symbolic inclusion in pictures than substantive inclusion in stories. Relative to their growing share of the US population, Black and Latinx people are underrepresented in the mainstream collection; males, particularly White males, are persistently overrepresented. Our data provide a view into the “black box” of education through children’s books in US schools and homes, highlighting what has changed and what has endured.

Suggested Citation

Adukia, Anjali and Eble, Alex and Harrison, Emileigh and Runesha, Hakizumwami Birali and Szasz, Teodora, What We Teach About Race and Gender: Representation in Images and Text of Children’s Books (July 29, 2021). University of Chicago, Becker Friedman Institute for Economics Working Paper No. 2021-44, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3825080 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3825080

Anjali Adukia (Contact Author)

University of Chicago ( email )

1101 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

HOME PAGE: http://home.uchicago.edu/adukia

Alex Eble

Columbia University ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

Emileigh Harrison

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy ( email )

1155 East 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Hakizumwami Birali Runesha

University of Chicago ( email )

1101 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Teodora Szasz

University of Chicago ( email )

1101 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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