, Volume 26, Issue 7-8, pp 331-353

Sex typing in play and popularity in middle childhood

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Sex differences in play behavior across the early elementary school years as well as the relation between sex-typed play and peer acceptance were examined. It was hypothesized that children who were more sex-typed in their play behaviors would be more accepted by their peers. The participants included 86 grade two children and 81 grade four children. Popularity was assessed using a rating scale sociometric measure. Sex-typed behaviors were measured by observing the children at free play. Results indicated significant age and gender differences in children's play behavior. Specifically, boys engaged in more aggressive and rough and tumble play as well as more functional, solitary-dramatic and exploratory play and tended to be involved more in group play, whereas girls produced more parallel and constructive play as well as more peer conversations. In grade 4, these differences were maximized such that boys produced more games-with-rules and girls exhibited more parallel-constructive activity. Second, results indicated that sociometric ratings and observed degree of sex-typing were not significantly related except in the case of fourth grade males. At the fourth grade level, a positive relation was observed between boys' acceptance by male peers and “masculine” or male-preferred play behavior as well as between boys' acceptance by female peers and “feminine” or female-preferred play.

Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the Fourth Biennial University of Waterloo Conference on Child Development, Waterloo, Ontario, May 1986 and the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Baltimore, Maryland, April 1987. This research was supported by grants to authors Rubin and Hymel from Health and Welfare Canada and The Ontario Mental Health Foundation. Author Moller was supported by a doctoral research fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Preparation of this manuscript was aided by a Killam Research Fellowship to author Rubin. We are grateful to the teachers and children in the Waterloo County Board of Education for their cooperation in this project. Thanks also go to Anne Emptage and Laurie Addis who coordinated all data gathering aspects of the study.