Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 23, Issue 6, pp 645–663 | Cite as

Variability in middle childhood play behavior: Effects of gender, age, and family background

  • David E. Sandberg
  • Heino F. L. Meyer-Bahlburg


Parent-report questionnaires for the assessment of gender-normative and gender-atypical behavior in childhood offers researchers the opportunity to conduct large-scale screenings of community samples of boys and girls. One important aspect of childhood gender role behavior includes play. Although play behavior inventories have been used clinically for the identification of gender disturbed boys, recent community-based surveys of play behavior in both genders are lacking. The present postal questionnaire survey of parents of 688, 6- to 10-year-old children (boys = 333, girls = 355) attending one public school district (74% of the eligible sample), clarifies how subject's age, family race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status influence gender differences in play. Significant gender differences were detected for 63 of the 69 games. With but few exceptions, the magnitude of the gender differences in play remained relatively constant across middle childhood. Older boys and girls decreased their participation in activities numerically dominated by girls whereas the reverse was true for male-dominated activities. Parents' educational level influenced play for only a minority of items. Finally, whereas race/ethnicity significantly predicted game/activity participation in approximately one half of the items, a consistent influence of this variable on gender-related play did not emerge. In spite of dramatic changes in women's roles in the U.S. society over the past three decades, gender differences in middle childhood play have remained strong.

Key words

play boys and girls gender role behavior prevalence community survey 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • David E. Sandberg
    • 1
    • 2
  • Heino F. L. Meyer-Bahlburg
    • 3
  1. 1.Division of Child and Adolescent PsychiatryChildren's Hospital of BuffaloBuffaloUSA
  2. 2.Departments of Psychiatry and PediatricsState University of New York at BuffaloBuffaloUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychiatryCollege of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, and New York State Psychiatric InstituteNew YorkUSA

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