We investigated whether the possible selves of men and women align with the gender-differentiated social roles that are projected to vary across the lifespan. Across two studies (Study 1: N = 211 and Study 2: N = 314) of college students in the Midwestern U.S., we found that gender differences in possible selves were larger when projected into the distant future (e.g., 10–15 years) than the near future (1 year). In addition, the relationship between career and family possible selves varied depending on gender and temporal distance, with a tradeoff between career and family observed primarily among women and for distant possible selves (Study 1). Supporting role congruity theory, both genders hoped for role-congruent selves but feared role-incongruent selves (Study 2).
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
We’re sorry, something doesn't seem to be working properly.
Please try refreshing the page. If that doesn't work, please contact support so we can address the problem.
Anthis, K. S., Dunkel, C. S., & Anderson, B. (2004). Gender and identity status differences in late adolescents’ possible selves. Journal of Adolescence, 27, 147–152.
Bianchi, S. M. (2000). Maternal employment and time with children: Dramatic change or surprising continuity? Demography, 37, 401–414.
Bianchi, S. M., Robinson, J. P., & Milkie, M. A. (2006). Changing rhythms of American family life. New York: Sage.
Bielby, W. T., & Bielby, D. D. (1989). Family ties: Balancing commitments to work and family in dual earner households. American Sociological Review, 54, 776–789.
Bosson, J. K., Prewitt-Freilino, J. L., & Taylor, J. N. (2005). Role rigidity: A problem of identity misclassification? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 552–565.
Diekman, A. B., & Eagly, A. H. (2000). Stereotypes as dynamic constructs: Women and men of the past, present, and future. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 1171–1188.
Diekman, A. B., & Eagly, A. H. (2008). Of men, women, and motivation: A role congruity account. In J. Y. Shah & W. L. Gardner (Eds.), Handbook of motivation science (pp. 434–447). New York: Guilford.
Diekman, A. B., Goodfriend, W., & Goodwin, S. (2004). Dynamic stereotypes of power: Perceived change and stability in gender hierarchies. Sex Roles, 50, 201–215.
Diekman, A. B., Eagly, A. H., Mladinic, A., & Ferreira, M. C. (2005). Dynamic stereotypes about women and men in Latin America and the United States. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 36, 209–226.
Eagly, A. H., & Diekman, A. B. (2003). The malleability of sex differences in response to changing social roles. In L. G. Aspinwall & U. M. Staudinger (Eds.), A psychology of human strengths: Fundamental questions and future directions for a positive psychology (pp. 103–115). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Eagly, A. H., Wood, W., & Diekman, A. B. (2000). Social role theory of sex differences and similarities: A current appraisal. In T. Eckes & H. M. Trautner (Eds.), The developmental social psychology of gender (pp. 123–174). Mahwah: Erlbaum.
Eagly, A. H., Eastwick, P. W., & Johannesen-Schmidt, M. (2009). Possible selves in marital roles: The impact of the anticipated division of labor on the mate preferences of women and men. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 403–414.
Eastwick, P. W., & Finkel, E. J. (2008). Sex differences in mate preferences revisited: Do people know what they initially desire in a romantic partner? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94, 245–264.
Etaugh, C., & Folger, D. (1998). Perceptions of parents whose work and parenting behaviors deviate from role expectations. Sex Roles, 39, 215–223.
Friedman, S. R., & Weissbrod, C. S. (2005). Work and family commitment and decision-making status among emerging adults. Sex Roles, 53, 317–325.
Fryberg, S. A., & Markus, H. R. (2003). On being American Indian: Current and possible selves. Self and Identity, 2, 325–344.
Fryberg, S. A., Markus, H. R., Oyserman, D., & Stone, J. M. (2008). Of warrior chiefs and Indian princesses: The psychological consequences of American Indian mascots. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 30, 208–218.
Gadalla, T. M. (2008). Gender differences in poverty rates after marital dissolution: A longitudinal study. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 49, 225–238.
Giles, M., & Rea, A. (1999). Career self-efficacy: An application of the theory of planned behavior. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 72, 393–398.
Greene, B. A., & DeBacker, T. K. (2004). Gender orientations toward the future: Links to motivation. Educational Psychology Review, 16, 91–120.
Hayghe, H. V. (1986). Rise in mother’s labor force activity includes those with infants. Monthly Labor Review, 109, 43–45.
Hayghe, H. V. (1990). Family members in the work force. Monthly Labor Review, 113, 14–19.
Haygne, H. V. (1997). Developments in women’s labor force participation. Monthly Labor Review, 120, 41–46.
Helwig, A. A. (1998). Gender-role stereotyping: Testing theory with a longitudinal sample. Sex Roles, 38, 403–423.
Higgins, E. T. (1996). Knowledge activation: Accessibility, applicability, and salience. In E. T. Higgins & A. W. Kruglanski (Eds.), Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles (pp. 133–168). New York: Guilford.
Hyde, J. S. (2005). The gender similarities hypothesis. The American Psychologist, 60, 581–592.
Jackson, D. W., & Tein, J. (1998). Adolescents’ conceptualization of adult roles: Relationships with age, gender, work goal, and maternal employment. Sex Roles, 38, 987–1008.
Killeen, L. A., López-Zafra, E., & Eagly, A. H. (2006). Envisioning oneself as a leader: Comparison of women and men in Spain and the United States. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30, 312–322.
Knox, M., Funk, J., Elliott, R., & Bush, E. G. (1998). Adolescents’ possible selves and their relationship to global self-esteem. Sex Roles, 39, 61–80.
Kuenzler, J., Walter, W., Reichart, E., & Pfister, G. (2001). Gender division of labour in unified Germany. Retrieved from http://www.politikwissenschaft.uni-wuerzburg.de/fileadmin/06060101/na_rep.pdf.
Lenton, A. P., Sedikides, C., & Bruder, M. (2009). A latent semantic analysis of gender stereotype-consistency and narrowness in American English. Sex Roles, 60, 269–278.
Lips, H. M. (2000). College students’ visions of power and possibility as moderate by gender. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 24, 39–43.
Lips, H. M. (2004). The gender gap in possible selves: Divergence in academic self-views among high school and university students. Sex Roles, 50, 357–371.
Markus, H., & Nurius, P. (1986). Possible selves. The American Psychologist, 41, 954–969.
Oyserman, D., & Markus, H. R. (1990). Possible selves and delinquency. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 112–125.
Oyserman, D., Gant, L., & Ager, J. (1995). A socially contextualized model of African American identity: Possible selves and school persistence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 1216–1232.
Reskin, B. F., & Roos, P. A. (1990). Job queues, gender queues: Explaining women’s inroads into male occupations. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Riggs, J. M. (1997). Mandates for mothers and fathers: Perceptions of breadwinners and care givers. Sex Roles, 37, 565–580.
Sanchez, L., & Thomson, E. (1997). Becoming mothers and fathers: Parenthood, gender, and the division of labor. Gender and Society, 11, 747–772.
The state of the American woman (2009, October). Time Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/0,28757,1930277,00.html.
Trope, Y., & Liberman, N. (2003). Temporal construal. Psychological Review, 110, 403–421.
Twenge, J. M. (1997). Changes in masculine and feminine traits over time: A meta-analysis. Sex Roles, 36, 305–325.
Unemori, P., Omoregie, H., & Markus, H. R. (2004). Self-portraits: Possible selves in European-American, Chilean, Japanese, and Japanese-American cultural contexts. Self and Identity, 3, 321–338.
Waid, L. D., & Frazier, L. D. (2003). Cultural differences in possible selves during later life. Journal of Ageing Studies, 17, 251–268.
Wilde, A., & Diekman, A. B. (2005). Cross-cultural similarities and differences in dynamic stereotypes: A comparison between Germany and the United States. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29, 188–196.
Women in the labor force: A databook (2008). Bureau of Labor Statistics: United States Department of Labor. http://www.bls.gov/cps/wlf-databook2008.htm.
Wood, W., & Eagly, A. H. (2009). Gender identity. In M. Leary & R. Hoyle (Eds.), Handbook of individual differences in social behavior (pp. 109–128). New York: Guilford.
We thank Cliff Evans and Amanda Johnston for their help with this research. We also thank research assistants Maegan Addis, Sarah Banchefsky, Susan Craft, Steve Kalgreen, Kyle Kurowski, Nicole Kramer, Kristine Mack, and Kelsey Nocks.
About this article
Cite this article
Brown, E.R., Diekman, A.B. What Will I Be? Exploring Gender Differences in Near and Distant Possible Selves. Sex Roles 63, 568–579 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-010-9827-x
- Social roles
- Possible selves
- Gender differences