A new study has shown that after the age of 6, girls are less likely to think that women are as smart as men.

In the study, girls and boys were told a story about someone who is “really, really smart”. They were then asked to identify who that person might be, after looking at photos of two women and two men, all of whom were dressed in professional clothes, were smiling and who seemed to be of the same age.

5-year-old girls most always picked a woman as the person who is “really really smart”. But at 6, girls started choosing a man to represent the smart person.

The second part of the study made children pick between two board games. One was described as a game for children who are “really, really smart” and the other for “children who try really, really hard”.

5-year-old girls wanted to play the game for smart kids, but 6-year-old girls increasingly chose the game for those who try hard.

The implications of this study are far reaching. Girls who inherently believe that they are not as smart as boys won’t pursue majors and professions that are deemed difficult.

“These stereotypes discourage women’s pursuit of many prestigious careers; that is, women are underrepresented in fields whose members cherish brilliance,” the authors wrote.

I asked Mohua Gupta, mother of a 6-year-old girl, what she thought. She said that she does not think this is something that is prevalent for all girls. In fact, her daughter already perceives boys as naughty, she says.

Another mom, Neena Kothari, said that she thinks that this issue would be more prevalent in rural households where girls are told to do housework from an early age.

Author of bestselling book Daughter by Court Order Ratna Vira, shares a different opinion. She says that gender stereotyping happens in educated families, and even in families where the mother is a feminist.  “I really believe that, irrespective of what your own mother does, gender stereotyping exists. When we look at the alphabet books, a doctor is always a man and nurse is always a woman.”

The authors of the study write that the male equals brilliance stereotype is the reason why there is so much of a gender gap in prestigious occupations.

“If we want to change young people’s minds and make things more equitable for girls, we really need to know when this problematic stereotype first emerges, and then we know when to intervene to avoid these negative consequences on girls’ educational decisions and their future career choices,” said lead author Lin Bian.

Also Read: Are we stereotyping gender roles with toys?