Sex Roles

, Volume 81, Issue 1–2, pp 118–125 | Cite as

How Societal Changes Have Influenced German Children’s Gender Representations as Expressed in Human Figure Drawings in 1977 and 2015

  • Bettina LammEmail author
  • Ariane Gernhardt
  • Hartmut Rübeling
Original Article


We investigated German first graders’ gender representations in human figure drawings done in 1977 and 2015. We hypothesized that increasing gender-status equality in society as well as growing gender differentiation in childcare and marketing are reflected in depictions of the human figure. Drawings were collected from a total of 376 children between 5 years 10 months and 8 years of age. Overall, the results are in accordance with the hypotheses: In contrast to 1977, the proportion of male and female figures was more balanced in 2015. In 2015, more girls drew a figure of their own gender and the femininity of female figures was higher than in 1977. Unexpectedly, the masculinity of male figures did not increase over this time. These results provide some insight into dynamic changes of children’s view of gender roles reflecting societal conditions. Drawings as a nonverbal approach to children’s gender representations proved sensitive in research but may also serve as a starting point in social and pedagogical work addressing gender issues. Considering gender status equality and gender specification as independent aspects of gender representations contributes to a better understanding by researchers as well as by practice professionals.


Gender representation Gender equality Societal change Children’s drawings 



We would like to thank Dr. Heinz Krombholz, Staatsinstitut für Frühpädagogik, München (Germany) for his generous offer to use the drawings of the 1977 cohort. Special thanks go to all the children who provided these impressive drawings. We would also like to express our gratitude to the students who helped in the data collection and analysis, especially Nina Bergfeld and Anneliese Skrobanek.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

Our research complied with American Psychological Association (APA) and Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) ethical standards in the treatment of the participants.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for PsychologyUniversity of MünsterMünsterGermany
  2. 2.Institute for PsychologyOsnabrück UniversityOsnabrückGermany

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