Sex Roles

, Volume 75, Issue 9–10, pp 409–421 | Cite as

Gender Essentialism in Children and Parents: Implications for the Development of Gender Stereotyping and Gender-Typed Preferences

  • Meredith MeyerEmail author
  • Susan A. Gelman
Original Article


Psychological essentialism is a set of lay beliefs about categories, according to which certain categories are seen as natural and arising from an inborn, causal force or “essence.” Social categories, including gender, are often essentialized by both adults and children. The current study examines how gender essentialism relates to other gender-relevant beliefs and preferences, in both a child sample (5- to 7-year-olds) and an adult sample (the children’s parents). Children’s and parents’ essentialism predicted children’s gender-typed preferences, but not children’s prescriptive stereotyping. In contrast, parents’ essentialism predicted their own prescriptive stereotyping, but not their gender-typed preferences. Implications of these findings are discussed in the contexts of (a) past findings linking essentialism with stereotyping and (b) the practical implications of developmental shifts in the correlates of essentialism, including ways in which stereotyping and rigid beliefs about gender may be reduced.


Psychological essentialism Stereotyped behavior Stereotyped attitudes Development 



All research reported in this manuscript was reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board of the University of Michigan (the home institution of both authors at the time the research was conducted). This includes the use of informed consent (from parents) and assent (from children). This research was supported by Grant R01 HD36043 from the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development to Gelman. We thank Elizabeth Anastasia and Alexandra M. Was for research assistance.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest associated with our involvement in this research, or its publication.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyOtterbein UniversityWestervilleUSA
  2. 2.University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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