Women and girls continue to be portrayed as being more dependent, passive and incompetent than men, a study of 60 American children's books published between 1970 and 1999 has revealed.
The study's authors, Dr Claire Etaugh and Dr Melissa Lane of Bradley University, Illinois, found women were stereotyped in 85 per cent of books published during the 1990s.
Most women were portrayed as being sympathetic, gentle, warm and kind, while men were shown to be more ambitious, independent and active.
"The message to girls is learn to act feminine. Don't be too active, or assertive or daring, or ambitious," Dr Etaugh told the European Congress of Psychol-ogy in London on Wednesday.
Charlie Griffiths, director of the National Literacy Association, said British publishers were trying harder to avoid traditional male, female and family stereotypes. In recent years, her association has worked to improve literacy levels among children in local authority care and has managed to find books with which they can identify.
Miss Griffiths said popular authors such as Jacqueline Wilson, J K Rowling and Philip Pullman all avoided stereotyping. "The importance of children's books is to have as wide a range available as there are family situations, and I think publishers have gone a long way to doing that.
"But there is no room for complacency and we must always stay one step ahead of the game."