Equal Opportunities Commission


Press Releases

Press Releases

EOC Research Findings on Stereotyping : A Call for Diversity


The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) today (Monday, 15 April 2002) announced the results of two research projects involving students and textbooks.

The studies found that gender division in student perceptions is distinct and perceptions regarding disability and non-traditional families lack balance. Textbooks present females in a stereotypical fashion, and persons with a disability and single-parent families are under represented.

The perceptions students hold influence their interest and career choices, affecting their economic status, achievement and public participation as well as the overall cohesiveness of a community.

Chairperson of the EOC, Ms. Anna Wu said, “Education plays a significant role in removing stereotypical perceptions and schools, teachers and textbooks are catalysts to change. The educational setting should reflect diversity, different cultural values, customs, lifestyles and the social realities of a changing community.”

Ms. Wu continued, “It is important that girls and boys are equipped to make the best possible choices in a changing society. Stereotyping limits life choices for young people, restricting young people from realizing their aspirations to reach their full potential. The EOC’s vision is about opening doors for every individual, and challenging stereotypes will enable young people of both sexes to discover new horizons and possibilities.”

Baseline Survey on Students’ Attitudes Towards People with a Disability and Gender Stereotypes and Family Roles

This study was conducted by the Department of Social Work and Social Administration, the University of Hong Kong. The research team gathered data from 8,379 students in Primary 4, Form 1, Form 4 and Form 6. The aim of the research project was to establish students’ attitudes towards gender, disability, stereotyping and family roles.



It is evident from this research that gender has a profound influence on the way students think. This is not surprising but there are signs that some boundaries, at least, are dissolving - for instance, in the general acceptance amongst both male and female students that women would have a career. However, both male and female students still expected that men would be the major bread winner in the family and women regarded as more suitable for the care of young children. Notably, young men surveyed were more rigid and inflexible in their definition of masculinity, restricting themselves to far fewer options in behavior and career choices.

There were major disagreements between senior male and female students over five situations. Boys considered the following suggestions “unthinkable” but not the girls:-

- that girls take the initiative in courtship and dating (the girls were neutral);

- that boys should be trained in domestic science, household work and childcare

(the girls agreed with the statement );

- that daughters and sons should share the housework equally (the girls strongly agreed);

- that boys have women bosses (the girls were accepting);

- that husbands receive financial support from their spouse (the girls found this acceptable).

School subjects were seen as more or less suitable for male or female students. Girls thought that physical education, mathematics and computers were suitable for both sexes whereas the boys considered them male subjects. Art and music were seen as girl subjects whereas science and IT were seen as boy subjects. Extra-curricular activities followed a similar pattern. Football, martial arts and volleyball were for the boys while drawing, dancing and music were for the girls.

Occupational stereotyping was extremely prevalent among both male and female students. When they were asked to imagine being the opposite sex and then choosing a suitable career, there were marked changes in their personal choice of careers. Although they agreed that most occupations were suitable for either gender, stereotypical thinking still dominated career preferences. Very few of them targeted themselves beyond stereotypical boundaries in career options. Employment in the arts and humanities, early childhood education, nursing, fine arts and dancing were thought to be appropriate for girls. Careers in science, IT, engineering, sports and technical work were considered appropriate for boys.


Results indicated that the young respondents found the re-constituted family (amalgamation of two families into a new one) least acceptable, followed by male-headed single parent family, female-headed single parent family, family with the mother in mainland China and age-discrepant parents.

Of interest was also the finding that students of all ages and both genders agreed with the statement that if the father worked long hours and had little time for the children, it would not be good for their healthy development. The participants were very clear that they wanted a father involved in their lives and not a ‘hands-off’ father.


All respondents said that their impression of persons with a disability (PWDs) came largely from the mass media. There was a ranking of disabilities, with those with a learning impairment and those who had experienced mental illness at the bottom – very much in line with the international literature.

Students tended to pay attention only to the constraints and limitations of PWDs. Half of all respondents viewed people with a disability as pitiful. The disabling implications of a given impairment were magnified because of misunderstanding and erroneous influence. For example, persons with a disability were perceived as deviant, accident prone and appropriate for repetitive work and people with mental illness were assumed to be deviant and violent.

Apparently, the majority of students were aware of the ethos of non-discrimination, equal opportunities and human rights for persons with a disability. But they were still largely under the negative influences of many prevailing behavioural misconceptions about people with a disability. They held the assumption that PWDs would be more comfortable and better educated in special instead of integrated schools. Students were hesitant towards personal commitments and cautious about the social consequences, in particular, the sense of threat and unpredictability, in relation to people with a disability.

Only about one-third (36.2%) of the students indicated that they were acquainted with or had had personal contact with persons with a disability. Many people with a disability are still largely excluded socially from the mainstream, and students viewed this exclusion as normative. This leads to a vicious cycle of further misunderstanding and hesitance to treat them equally as members of society.

In view of their findings, the researchers suggested that there be a re-orientation and extensive effort within special education and rehabilitation services to promote social integration of persons with a disability in the different facets of community life. More PWDs should be educated in the mainstream, engage in open employment, live in communal residential settings, and participate in as well as contribute to the community’s way of life. Education of students should be seen as a long term socialization process.

Since 1997, a very important change has taken place in Hong Kong’s education system, children with a disability have been accepted into ordinary primary schools. Last year, the EOC issued the “Code of Practice on Education” to provide guidance for educators with practical principles on making provisions for students with disabilities. Research from overseas has clearly indicated that peer relationships between students with a disability and those without a disability are profoundly affected by the environment of integration that the school creates. Proper preparation and training should be offered to those students without a disability who are studying together with students with a disability.

Research on Content Analysis of Textbooks and Teaching Materials in Respect of Stereotypes

This study was conducted by the Center for English Language Education and Communication Research, City University of Hong Kong. The research team reviewed 289 textbooks, examination papers and 69,957 entries with human characters and interviewed students, teachers and publishers.

The focus of the research project was to examine the nature and extent of stereotyping in printed educational materials. The areas of stereotyping surveyed were gender, age, disability, single-parenthood and ethnicity.



In the entries where gender of the characters could be identified (31,970 out of 69,957 entries), female characters appeared less often than male characters (29% vs. 71%) at 1:2.4. (The F:M ratio in the local population is around 1:0.97.)

Characters of unidentified gender (i.e. non-genderised characters) occurred more frequently than male and female characters combined (i.e. genderised characters) roughly in the ratio of 1:0.8. Non-genderised characters tended to dominate in the written mode while genderised characters are more prominent in the visual mode.

Female characters were more likely to co-occur with male than with female. Males were more likely to co-occur with male than female. In terms of behavioural processes, women were said to cry, behave strangely and not be able to help eating. Men were associated with courage, older persons, women and children were associated with being weak.

Teachers interviewed by the researchers felt that history materials could make more references to the achievement of women.


Disability was rarely referred to in the sampled materials, only 73 occurrences out of 69,957 entries, representing 0.1% of the sampled materials. In the Rehabilitation Program Plan issued by the Government, the PWDs prevalence rate is 6.2% of the population. The Census and Statistics Department survey issued in 2001 found the prevalence rate of persons with disability (excluding persons with a mental disability) to be 4% of the total population. Under representation of PWDs in textbooks was apparent.

Primary school materials featured only persons with a physical disability, while secondary school materials included other types of disability. PWDs were not shown as fully functioning social actors. PWDs were presented as more passive than other social actors and were said to be needing support and help from others.

Publishers interviewed by the researchers acknowledged the need to heighten the positive presence of PWDs but expressed difficulties in securing materials such as pictures of PWDs.


Overall, female characters tended to act as givers and male characters as receivers in the family. There was only one instance of single parenthood and one related instance of children in a single parent family situation, representing 0.003% of the sample. (The marital status profile of Hong Kong shows approximately 6% of HK residents are widowed and 2.7% divorced or separated.)

Students interviewed viewed divorced women as ill tempered, sometimes miserable and having psychological problems, and children of single-parents were viewed as objects of ridicule.

Teachers interviewed recognized imbalances in family role distribution and that women contribute to the economy as well as at home.


Old characters appeared less often than younger characters in every subject except Economics and Integrated Sciences bearing in mind, in particular, references to their needing Comprehensive Social Security Allowances and other services. The number of references to the two groups were equal in these two subjects. Age was referred to in 4.3% of all cases sampled. Older persons were said to sleep in the afternoon, fall onto the ground, play sports occasionally while their active side and their contribution to the family and the community were not emphasized.

The teachers interviewed felt that the role-task distribution among the old and the young needed to be appraised in relation to a person’s age and strength.


Ethnicity was only referred to in 3.2% of all cases sampled. Most educational materials only featured Chinese, British, French and Americans but not Filipinos. New arrivals from the mainland were mentioned twice in the sub-sample.

Immigrant children from the mainland were negatively regarded by students who were interviewed, with students seeing no necessity to help them out. Interest in immigrant children were focused on their accent, attire and need for assistance.

Group Linguistic Analysis

The research team looked into dialogues and different narratives of characters in different sub-samples drawn from English medium and Chinese medium texts. The following results were found :

The narrative analysis examined the story themes. The themes in the materials studied seemed to follow a stable and conventional pattern. This pattern, in turn, defined and reinforced social expectations. The description of the father was skewed towards his working life and his contribution to society. The description of the mother was skewed towards her life and contribution to the family. Fathers and grandfathers taught their children and grandchildren to deal with the outside world, mothers taught their daughters how to behave at home.

Men served as a knowledge bank about world knowledge, science, geography and how to perform real world tasks. Women appeared to teach relationship knowledge i.e. about interpersonal relationships. Regarding problem-solution roles, grandfathers, mothers, and children had problems, while fathers typically did not. Where fathers did experience problems, they were associated with work, and mothers with housework and the home.

In terms of professional roles, women tended to be real estate and travel agents, artists, DJs, movie stars, writers, sport stars, customers, passengers, tourists, visitors, librarians, teachers, shop assistants and ticket sellers more often than did men.

Women tended to work in the service industry and were more likely to play the role of customers, tourists and visitors. In consequence, women tended to make more inquiries and engage in more transactional interaction such as buying and selling goods and services. Because of the nature of their jobs, women gave more information. However, men tended to play the role of editors, journalists and reporters more than women, and they tended to interview more often than women did.

Stereotyping Involving Other Variables

Occupation : There were higher co-occurrence of occupation with male and middle-aged persons. More male characters were in blue-collar work, and women were more likely to appear in the service industry.

Economic Status : The frequency of occurrence of economically active, as opposed to economically inactive characters, was related to gender, age and ethnicity. Younger characters were more economically active than older characters. More males than females were economically active, and more non-Chinese than Chinese held white collar jobs.

Interest : The frequency of occurrence of different categories of interests, such as sports, home-related activities, voluntary work, outdoor/indoor activities, was related to gender. Males were associated with sports and outdoor activities, while females were associated with home-related/indoor activities and voluntary work.

Achievement : Where references were made to achievement, the frequency distribution across categories of gender and age was skewed in favour of male and young persons.

Public Participation : Where references were made to public participation, such as activities involved in a public arena, social groups, government activities and voting; the frequency distribution across categories of gender and age was skewed in favour of male and young persons.

Stakeholders’ Views

- Publishers and teachers interviewed recognized the need to introduce references reflecting diversity in ethnicity, customs, cultural values, lifestyles and the social realities in Hong Kong;
- Publishers and teachers interviewed agreed that a set of guidelines to avoid stereotyping in educational materials would be useful reference;

- Teachers welcomed professional development and in-service training incorporating formal training to handle stereotyping issues.

The Way Forward

In view of the results of these studies, the EOC will :-

- liaise with the Curriculum Development Institute and the Education Department to develop equal opportunities educational materials for schools;

- Work with teachers training institutions to raise awareness of stereotyping issues and to develop teaching skills in handling these issues;

- Hold seminars for education professionals and stakeholders to discuss the survey findings and their implications, and map out a follow-up programme;

- Promote the development of guidelines by the stakeholders to eliminate stereotyping in teaching materials and textbooks.

Enquiry: Ms. Mariana LAW         21062226