Sex Roles

, Volume 22, Issue 1–2, pp 69–82 | Cite as

The impact of generic word choices: An empirical investigation of age- and sex-related differences

  • Jo Young Switzer


Previous studies of receivers' responses to generic words have found that adults generally develop masculine imagery for neutral words and that men do this more than women. The present investigation of school-aged children (n=471) found that they, like adults, develop sex-specific masculine imagery in response to apparently neutral messages. Early adolescents, however, reported significantly more inclusive imagery than 6–7-year-olds. Different pronoun conditions elicited different mental imagery for the receivers of the messages with “he/she” eliciting more of a balance between male and female images and “they” eliciting more inclusive imagery.


Social Psychology Empirical Investigation Early Adolescent Mental Imagery Neutral Word 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adamsky, C. (1981). Changes in pronominal usages in a classroom situation. Psychology of Women Quarterly 5, 773–779.Google Scholar
  2. Anttila, R. (1972). An introduction to historical and comparative linguistics. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  3. Bate, B. (1975). Generic man, invisible woman: Language, thought, and social change. University of Michigan Papers in Women's Studies, 2, 83–95.Google Scholar
  4. Bowers, J. W., & Courtwright, J. A. (1984). Communication research methods. Glenview, IL: Scott Foresman and Company.Google Scholar
  5. Brooks, L. (1983). Sexist language in occupational information: Does it make a difference? Journal of Vocational Behavior, 23, 227–232.Google Scholar
  6. Eikenberry, P. M., & Keller, J. E. (1986). Can ‘he’ be gender-neutral: Moulton, Robison, and Elias revisited. Paper presented at Speech Communication Association Convention, Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
  7. Fisk, W. R. (1985). Responses to ‘neutral’ pronoun presentations and the development of sex-biased responding. Developmental Psychology, 21, 481–485.Google Scholar
  8. Gelb, S. A. (1987). Generic pronouns in early childhood education: Were there female dinosaurs, too? Resources in Education, Document Number ED-285-673.Google Scholar
  9. Hyde, J. S. (1984). Children's understanding of sexist language. Developmental Psychology, 20, 697–706.Google Scholar
  10. Lindfors, J. W. (1980). Children's Language and Learning (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-hall.Google Scholar
  11. Martyna, W. (1978). What does “he” mean? Use of the Masculine Genetic. Journal of Communication, 28, 131–138.Google Scholar
  12. McConnell-Ginet, S., Borker, R., & Furman, N. (Eds.). (1980). Women and language in literature and society. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
  13. Moulton, J., Robinson, G., & Elias, C. (1978, November). Sex bias in language use: ‘Neutral’ pronouns that aren't. American Psychologist, 33, 1032–1036.Google Scholar
  14. Oksaar, E. (1983). Language acquisition in the early years: An introduction to paedolinguistics. New York: St. Martin's Press.Google Scholar
  15. Richmond, V. P., & Gorham, J. (1988). Language patterns and gender role orientation among students in grades K-12. Communication Education, 37, 142–149.Google Scholar
  16. Schau, C. G., & Scott, K. P. (1984). Impact of gender characteristics of instructional materials: An integration of the research literature. Journal of Educational Psychology, 76, 183–193.Google Scholar
  17. Schneider, J., & Hacker, S. (1973). Sex role imagery and the use of generic ‘man’ in introductory texts. American Sociologist, 8, 12–18.Google Scholar
  18. Todd-Mancillas, W. R. (1981). Masculine generics = sexist language: A review of literature and implications for speech communication professionals. Communication Quarterly, 29, 107–115.Google Scholar
  19. Vetterling-Braggin, M., Ellinston, F. A., & English, J. (1981). Feminism and philosophy. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield.Google Scholar
  20. Williams, J. E., Bennett, S., & Best, D. (1975). Awareness and expression of sex stereotypes in young children. Developmental Psychology, 11, 635–642.Google Scholar
  21. Wise, E., & Rafferty, J. (1982). Sex bias and language. Sex Roles, 8, 1189–1196.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jo Young Switzer
    • 1
  1. 1.Indiana University—Purdue University at Fort WayneUSA

Personalised recommendations