sChapter 15: Gender Role Development and Sex Differences
Sex Differentiation: the biological process through which physical differences
between sexes emerge.
Gender Role (sex-role stereotype): a pattern or set of behaviours considered
appropriate for males or females within a particular
Sex Typing: the process by which children develop the behaviours and attitudes
considered appropriate for their gender.
1) Theories of Gender-Role Development and Sex Differences
A) Evolutionary and Biological Approaches
a) Evolutionary Approaches
One way in which the reproductive roles of males and females differ is in the
relative investment each makes to parenting and to mating. For females,
each copulation brings with it the possibility of conception and 9 months of
pregnancy; thus, females have a large potential investment in each
copulation. Males on the other hand, need to invest little more than sperm
and the energy required for copulation. So, females have evolved to be
choosier about their mates whereas males evolved to focus their efforts
largely on mating.
Studies show similar behaviour patterns among the females and males of
many nonhuman species.
Higher rates of aggression and dominance displayed by boys are seen as
preparation for adult male competition over mates. Girls greater inhibitory
control reflects the challenges they will face in choosing mates and caring
for young, demanding infants.
Evolutionary theorists believe that intrinsic, inborn differences between the
sexes gives rise to and maintain gender roles.
b) Psychobiological Approach
During the prenatal period, fetal hormones guide the development of male
or female reproductive organs and external genitals.
Hormone levels can be influenced by innumerable environmental factors,
such as outside temperature, immunological reactions and maternal stress.
B) Sociocultural Approaches
Gender roles develop as children participate in and prepare for the adult roles
they are expected to play in their communities. The gender roles of girls and
boys parallel those of the adults around them and exert a powerful influence
on how children spend their time, with whom and where.
Sociocultural theorists contend that sex differences observed among children
and adults are caused by the roles commonly held by females versus males.
C) Cognitive-Developmental Approaches
Childs increasing knowledge of and ability to implement gender roles.
Gender script : refers to a cognitive representation of a familiar routine or
activity that is usually only associated with one gender a) Kohlbergs Stage Model
Kohlberg believed that children construct their gender identity from what
they see and hear around them. This gender identity serves to organize and
regulate childrens gender learning and behaviour.
Gender constancy: the belief that ones own gender is fixed and
Gender constancy (which is usually fully developed by age 6) develops in 3
1) Gender Identity: the ability to categorize oneself as male or female
2) Gender Stability: the awareness that all boys grow up to be men and all
girls become women
3) Gender consistency: the recognition that an individuals gender
remains the same despite changes in dress, hairstyle,
activities or personality.
Cross-cultural studies confirm that children progress through these stages,
in this order.
Studies have not supported Kohlbergs idea that gender constancy precedes
childrens adherence to gender norms; studies report that children show
gender-typed toy preference, emulate same-sex models and reward peers
for gender-appropriate behaviour years before they understand that gender
is a permanent, unchanging attribute.
b) Gender Schema Theory
Gender Schemas: cognitive representations of the characteristics
associated with being either male or female.
Children categorize gender-relevant stimuli (people, toys, etc) as for girls
or for boys.
Gender schemas result from 2 factors:
1) the childs inborn tendency to organize and classify information from the
2) the preponderance of gender-distinguishing cues (clothing, names, etc)
that make these concepts easily identifiable.
Self-schema: the gender schema that the child adopts (girl or boy).
This self-schema affects the child in 2 ways:
1) it prompts the child to pay greater attention to information relevant to
his or her own gender
2) it influences the childs self-regulated behaviour (ex: choosing to take
ballet or karate lessons)
Children begin to organize their experience and behave in ways compatible
with gender norms once they can identify themselves as male or female, an
achievement typically reached between the ages of 2 and 3.
There is evidence that young children do use gender as a means to
categorize their world and that knowledge of gender categories influences
childrens processing of information. Some children develop idiosyncratic gender schemas: gender schemas
that include dimensions more typically associated with the opposite sex (ex:
D) Environmental/Learning Approaches
Social-learning theorists view gender roles as primarily learned patterns of
behaviour that are acquired through experience. Many sex-typed behaviours
are products of learning principles, including reinforcement, observational
learning and self-regulation.
By learning to anticipate how others will respond to their behaviour, they
gradually internalize standards regarding what are appropriate and
inappropriate gender behaviours and then self-regulate their behaviour to
conform to these standards.
Sex-typed behaviours are not fixed and are susceptible to change.
2) Some Perceived and Real Sex Differences
Studies sometimes yield conflicting results. To help make sense of discrepant
results, researchers employ meta-analysis.
Meta-analysis: a method of reviewing the research literature on a given topic
that uses statistical procedures to establish the existence and size of
effects. Since it examines multiple studies, the number of subjects is
increased and there can be more definitive inferences.
In general, the average differences between males and females are actually
smaller than the variability within each sex.
A) Physical Differences
a) Physical Maturity and Vulnerability
At birth, the female newborn is generally healthier and more
developmentally advanced than the male despite being somewhat smaller
and lighter. Although she is much less muscular and somewhat more
sensitive to pain, she is better coordinated neurologically and physically. On
average, girls reach developmental milestones earlier than males (ex:
puberty, losing 1 tooth).
Males are physically more vulnerable: they are more likely to be miscarried,
to suffer from physical and mental illnesses as well as various kinds of
hereditary abnormalities, and to die in infancy.
b) Activity Level
Typically, boys have higher activity levels than girls; boys are more active
even in the womb!