Sandra Bem’s Gender Schema Theory After 34 Years: A Review of its Reach and Impact
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One of Sandra Bem’s important contributions was the development of gender schema theory (GST; Bem 1981a). Through an analysis of journal articles referencing GST, we explored the breadth of the theory’s reach and the ways in which its use has changed over time. More specifically, we analyzed how often GST reached journals outside psychology as well as journals and research populations outside the United States, even though Bem was a U.S. psychologist whose empirical work was primarily with U.S. populations. We also assessed the range of research topics that have used a GST framework. We found that 34 years later, GST continues to be cited frequently, with a broad reach beyond U.S. psychology, particularly into international as well as communication and business journals. We found five primary novel uses of the theory: development, discrimination/stereotyping, occupations, historically marginalized populations, and mental health and trauma. We conclude that GST has been a generative theory. For the future, we recommend that GST be used to frame the study of intersectionality, for research-based activism, and as part of a project of theory-bridging.