top of page
  • Writer's pictureNikki Latham

Women and people of colour remain “invisible” as most people pick white men as their heroes, study shows

A study reveals that women and people of colour are often overlooked as heroes in Britain and the USA, as people tend to choose white men as their inspirations.

Researchers find that their accomplishments are frequently forgotten or not acknowledged when individuals are selecting their role models. According to the study, most individuals consider their family and friends as their heroes.

These "everyday" heroes make up around one-third of choices in Britain and 41% in the US. Politicians, including Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, Barak Obama, Winston Churchill, and Margaret Thatcher, are popular choices for heroes in both countries. Human rights activists and campaigners rank as the sixth most popular category of heroes in both countries. Examples include Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, Mahatma Gandhi, and Malcolm X.

However, there are notable differences between the two nations. British respondents often choose celebrities, actors, and TV presenters as heroes, whereas religious figures are the second most common choice in the US, with a preference for both living religious leaders like the Pope and Biblical figures.

British and US women were more likely than men to have female heroes, with American and British men being significantly less likely to have a woman-hero. This information is based on YouGov surveys conducted on 1,686 adults in Britain and 1,000 in the USA to determine their biggest personal hero.

The surveys revealed that only a quarter of Britons and a fifth of Americans had a female hero. Excluding family members, only 11% of Americans chose a female public figure as their hero, compared to 20% of Britons. Among the under 25 age group, the likelihood of having a female hero was higher in the US, while it remained consistent across different age groups in the UK at 25%.

Supporting the Conservative Party in Britain increased the chances of having a female hero, potentially influenced by the "Thatcher effect" as Margaret Thatcher accounted for 18% of all female heroes listed by Conservative supporters.

On the other hand, supporting the Republican Party in the US decreased the likelihood of having a female hero, with Republicans having a 13% chance compared to Democrats' 25%.

Racial prejudice is declining in Britain, but non-white minority heroes only make up 15% of all heroes, compared to 31% in the US.

One of the author's of this research from the University of Exeter, Dr Kolpinskaya said: “The allure of heroes is enduring. We have found people’s gender and ethnicity has an impact on who their hero is. There is a persistent gap between the publicly prominent white male hero-figure and a perpetually ‘invisible’, and ‘forgotten’ heroine. People’s choice of hero reflects their own sex and race and ethnicity.”

This news story has been produced by Chesil Radio's News Team, for more information please visit:

bottom of page