Whilst adult women begin to challenge unfairness in the workplace, children as young as seven have their own gender gap, new research shows.

This matters because some of the barriers women face are cultural and set early in childhood.

The research suggests that the gender stereotyping begins early and shapes lives – limiting the choices women have later in life, with not enough choosing science and maths as core subjects to study.

The research also shows that children’s views about jobs and careers change little between seven and 17 and are influenced by family and TV more than anything else.

When asked to draw picture of firefighter, surgeon and fighter pilot, 92 percent of 13000 primary school children drew them as men.

More than five times the number of boys wanted to join the army and fire service – and twice as many boys as girls wanted to become scientists.

Girls wanted to roles in caring professions such as vets and teachers.

Children’s author Katherine Rundell believes the messages girls internalise need to change. And sees the heroines she writes about in her books as one way to challenge existing stereotypes.

For too long female characters in fiction have often been pale imitations of their male counterparts she says. "The boys go out and conquer and the girls do the washing up."

Later on at university even the brightest women face barriers.

Women now outnumber men at university, but although both sexes arrive with equal grades at Cambridge more men leave with first class degrees.

Dame Carol Black, Principal at Cambridge's Newnham College, says character matters as well as brains and that we may have been concentrating too much on equipping girls with the right grades and not enough on character.

Newnham now runs confidence building programmes for women.

Changing behaviour and aspiration means changing culture and expectation. Women have come a long way since the first of them were given the vote, but girls could go further if they are encouraged to look beyond the gender stereotypes.