Milestones in the Study of Gender Development

The late 1960s through the 1970s marked an important turning point in the field of gender research. For example, in 1978, the current editor of this journal and her co-authors published one of the first textbooks on the psychology of women and gender roles (Frieze et al. 1978). At that time, these areas were just emerging and the textbook represented an early and important effort to survey and integrate the existing literature. A recurring theme throughout the text was the white male bias that characterized the existing research and its interpretation. Furthermore, it provided a thorough discussion of the complexities surrounding the relative contributions of biological and social factors in understanding the psychology of women. Since that time, the field of gender studies has evolved and research on the development of gender-related behaviors and processes has grown considerably. In this section, we briefly review the developments in this field over the past few decades, with a particular focus on innovations in theory and research on gender development.

In this section, we provide some perspective on the broader context of research and theory in the field that coincided with the establishment of Sex Roles as a forum for gender research.A pivotal moment in the field of the psychology of gender occurred with the publication of Maccoby’s edited book, The Development of Sex Differences. The book focused on theories of gender development and contained several chapters that remain to this day the foundations of research and theory on children’s gender development (chapters by Hamburg and Lunde on hormonal influences on gender differences in behavior, Mischel’s chapter on social learning theory of gender development, and Kohlberg’s chapter proposing his cognitive developmental theory of gender development). These theoretical contributions gave direction to the study of gender in children.In 1972, Money and Ehrhardt’s book, Man and Woman, Boy and Girl, advanced a provocative theory about gender identity and gender differentiation that continues to spark debate. Based on research with intersex patients, this book advanced the idea that social factors were more important than biological factors in gender identity and gender roles and brought nature-nurture issues to the forefront. The authors also promoted the notion of “gender role” as a term referring to the socially defined, outward manifestations of gender, and “gender identity” as one’s personal experienced sense of gender.Chronologically, another important contribution was Maccoby and Jacklin’s book, The Psychology of Sex Differences.

This book presented an unparalleled synthesis of research findings on gender differences in development. It was especially innovative because it challenged the idea that there were numerous differences between the genders; instead, it argued for only a few well-established differences. This book was also important for highlighting that within-gender differences are often larger than those between the genders (a point still lost in many of the popularized beliefs held today; for example, see Sax 2006). Maccoby and Jacklin’s conclusions stimulated further investigations on gender differences and similarities. Furthermore, the authors challenged the notion that parents are the primary agents of children’s gender socialization. Instead, they promoted the idea that children play an important and proactive role in the adoption of gender-stereotyped behaviors, and introduced the term “self-socialization” to describe these child-directed processes.

The idea that children’s choices of whom to imitate plays a key role in their gender development sparked a new generation of research and debate on social and cognitive processes involved in children’s gender socialization. Their ideas also added a new dimension to research in the field by turning attention to group-level peer processes.The 1970s marked a turning point in terms of how scholars thought about the concepts of sex and gender. Unger’s influential paper, Toward a Redefinition of Sex and Gender, asserted that the use of the term gender “serves to reduce assumed parallels between biological and psychological sex or at least to make explicit any assumptions of such parallels” (p. 1,086). Her ideas led scholars to become more selective in their use of the terms sex and gender and to avoid framing research in ways that might hint at biological determinism (Poulin 2007).

Terminology issues have continued to be raised in the field: some researchers proposed other usages because of concern that separating “sex” and “gender” may presuppose knowledge of the origins of behaviors (e.g., Deaux 1993).Also during the 1970s, scholars started to move away from unidimensional and relatively simplistic models about the origins and meaning of gender differences and began to challenge conceptualizations of masculinity and femininity as representing bi-polar opposites. Most notably, in a conceptual breakthrough with both theoretical and methodological ramifications, Constantinople and Bem argued that males and females possess both masculine and feminine qualities. This idea revolutionized the measurement of these characteristics. Bem also argued that having both masculine and feminine qualities—that is, being psychological androgynous—was optimal for psychological adjustment. Her research laid the groundwork for subsequent research on gender identity and framed much research over the following years (Marecek et al. 2003).These ideas about multidimensionality were further emphasized in Huston’s chapter in the Handbook of Child Psychology.

Huston encouraged researchers to conduct empirical investigations of links between domains of gender typing rather than to infer their existence, as researchers had been doing (e.g., make assumptions about a child’s gender identity based on toy preferences). To provide a framework for organizing existing theoretical constructs and describing different content areas, Huston presented a matrix of gender typing. This matrix helped focus theoretical debates and organize literature in the field. The matrix also has provided directions for new research.Another important advancement in gender research has been the development and incorporation of meta-analytic methods. Meta-analysis allows for the systematic quantitative assessment of patterns across the findings of multiple studies and has had considerable impact on the study and understanding of many aspects of the psychology of gender (Hyde and Linn 1986). Although not an experimental method, the application of meta-analysis to the study of gender differences has once again highlighted the limited nature of differences between the genders and has illuminated the conditions under which gender differences are more or less likely to appear (e.g., Else-Quest et al. 2006; Hyde et al. 1990). Meta-analyses are themselves not without limitations; they are non-experimental and thus limited in ability to draw cause-effect conclusions and tend to focus on mean differences rather than distributions (see Knight et al. 1996). Nonetheless, they provide important insights into gender development and gender differences.

Gender Development Research in Sex RolesThere is no doubt that the historic changes described above have influenced the research that appears in our scholarly journals. To explore these trends, we turn our attention to the patterns of publication on gender development within Sex Roles since 1975. Our aim is to provide a descriptive medium for presenting trends in the field (and this journal, in particular) rather than to present an empirical piece with analyses that are an end in themselves. In taking this approach, we intend to characterize the issues, methods, and age groups that have received attention in the published research, and identify areas that need additional emphasis. Furthermore, we discuss why conducting developmental investigations is enriching to the field of

Quick Help gender studies, both theoretically and methodologically.Identifying Patterns in Sex Roles ArticlesTo accomplish our goals, we reviewed all articles published in Sex Roles since 1975 (through 2009) and identified 660 abstracts of Sex Roles articles that specifically focused on children and child development (for further inclusion criteria, see Appendix A). We then categorized these articles based on the age of the participants in the study (see Fig. 1), the principal type of methodology used in the study (see Fig. 2), and the content. Given the large number of articles we compiled and the descriptive purpose of our categorizations, our classifications were based on text provided in the abstracts. Because articles often investigated more than one content area or topic, categorizations were not mutually exclusive.Open in a separate windowFig. 1Percentage of articles by decade including each age groupingOpen in a separate windowFig. 2Percentage of articles by decade using each type of methodologyIssues of TerminologyOne of the most challenging aspects of classifying the articles was deciphering the meaning of some terms. In fact, this exercise served to highlight conceptual developments in the field and we felt a discussion of terminology was in itself a revealing way to illustrate important conceptual issues.

As the area of gender development has evolved and expanded, the terminology used has similarly expanded and sometimes the meaning terms have changed over time. For example, although the terms “sex-typing,” “gender- typing,” or “gender stereotyping,” and “gender identity” have been the most frequently used terms in the field, the definitions and operationalizations of these terms have changed over time. To address this definitional issue, we briefly review these terms, how they have been used, and how we decided to code them in our analyses.A recent model of children’s gender self-socialization, the Gender Self-Socialization Model (GSSM; Tobin et al. 2010) provides a useful framework for distinguishing among the various constructs studied by gender researchers. Tobin et al. point out that “sex-typing” and “gender-typing” are used in many different ways. They may refer to (a) the demonstration of knowledge or beliefs about attributes associated with gender categories (i.e., gender stereotyping), (b) thoughts and feelings about oneself in relation to being a girl or boy (i.e., gender identity), and (c) the enactment of gendered behavior. In accordance with Tobin et al. , when classifying articles, we took into account what measures authors used and classified studies as investigating Stereotyping, Gender Identity, or Gender Differences.Studies investigating masculinity and femininity as proposed by Bem were classified under Gender Identity because this classification is consistent with the intent of the authors of these studies.

However, a problem with Bem’s measurement and conceptualization of gender identity is that it is not assessed in terms of subjective thoughts, feelings, and knowledge about oneself as a member of a gender category, but rather is inferred from self-reports of the degree to which one possesses certain gender stereotyped attributes (Tobin et al. 2010). Thus, we attempted to be sensitive to the multiple types of assessment methods used to investigate gender identity, such as those defined by Perry and his colleagues (e.g., Egan and Perry 2001) and adopted by other researchers over the past decade or so (e.g., Smith and Leaper 2006).We also found that the term “gender stereotyping” was used without indication of whether gender stereotypes were assessed in terms of personal stereotype beliefs, knowledge of cultural stereotypes, stereotyped judgments, or the enactment of stereotype-consistent behaviors.

Such distinctions are important. For example, a child’s personal beliefs related to gender stereotypes (e.g., believing that girls are good at math) might not always be consistent with her knowledge of cultural gender stereotypes (e.g., knowing the cultural stereotype that girls are not good at math; Signorella et al. 1993). Judgments, perceptions, and attributions might be closely linked with stereotype knowledge and beliefs, but are nonetheless distinct from them. Behaviors, such as engaging in stereotyped activities or demonstrating stereotyped interactions styles, might also be linked with more cognitive variables, such as stereotype knowledge, but are also distinct from them. As such, applying the general term “gender stereotyping” without explicit indication of whether gender stereotyped beliefs, knowledge, or behaviors are being measured can cause confusion and more importantly, conflate conceptually distinct constructs. In our classification, we included knowledge and beliefs in the category of stereotyping but included behaviors under Gender Differences.

Issues of TerminologyOne of the most challenging aspects of classifying the articles was deciphering the meaning of some terms. In fact, this exercise served to highlight conceptual developments in the field and we felt a discussion of terminology was in itself a revealing way to illustrate important conceptual issues. As the area of gender development has evolved and expanded, the terminology used has similarly expanded and sometimes the meaning terms have changed over time. For example, although the terms “sex-typing,” “gender-typing,” or “gender stereotyping,” and “gender identity” have been the most frequently used terms in the field, the definitions and operationalizations of these terms have changed over time. To address this definitional issue, we briefly review these terms, how they have been used, and how we decided to code them in our analyses.A recent model of children’s gender self-socialization, the Gender Self-Socialization Model (GSSM; Tobin et al. 2010) provides a useful framework for distinguishing among the various constructs studied by gender researchers.

For example, a child’s personal beliefs related to gender stereotypes (e.g., believing that girls are good at math) might not always be consistent with her knowledge of cultural gender stereotypes (e.g., knowing the cultural stereotype that girls are not good at math; Signorella et al. 1993). Judgments, perceptions, and attributions might be closely linked with stereotype knowledge and beliefs, but are nonetheless distinct from them. Behaviors, such as engaging in stereotyped activities or demonstrating stereotyped interactions styles, might also be linked with more cognitive variables, such as stereotype knowledge, but are also distinct from them. As such, applying the general term “gender stereotyping” without explicit indication of whether gender stereotyped beliefs, knowledge, or behaviors are being measured can cause confusion and more importantly, conflate conceptually distinct constructs. In our classification, we included knowledge and beliefs in the category of stereotyping but included behaviors under Gender Differences.

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