Sex Roles

, Volume 81, Issue 11–12, pp 671–685 | Cite as

Characteristics of Preschool Gender Enforcers and Peers Who Associate with Them

  • Sonya Xinyue XiaoEmail author
  • Rachel E. Cook
  • Carol Lynn Martin
  • Matthew G. Nielson
Original Article


Children who try to exclude others due to their gender can be considered as “gender enforcers.” Using multiple methods (observations, interviews) and informants (children, teachers, teacher aides), we investigated the prevalence of gender enforcement, the characteristics of gender enforcers, and potential associations of exposure to gender enforcers. Participants were 98 (Mage = 49.47 months, SD = 11.40; 52% boys) preschoolers from a southwestern city in the United States. Results showed that both girls and boys engage in gender-enforcing behavior. Further, findings suggest that aggression and biased gender-related beliefs are associated with gender-enforcing behavior. Children who spent more time (over months) with enforcers were observed to play more with same-gender peers and to show more biased gender cognitions than were children who spent less time with enforcers. The study extends our understanding of how gender norms are enforced in early childhood, and it provides insights that may help to identify young gender enforcers. These findings have potential to inform future research and practice related to gender-based aggression in childhood.


Gender beliefs Gender norms Peer pressure Peer relations 



This research was funded in part by Grant I R01 HH55052 from the National Institute of Mental Health. Partial support was also provided by the Cowden Fellowship fund. Some of the data were presented earlier by Jessica McGuire, Carol Lynn Martin, Richard Fabes, and Laura Hanish at the 2007 Biennial Meeting of Society for Research in Child Development in poster format. We thank them for their early contribution to the research and we thank the parents, children, and teachers at the Child Development Lab at ASU for their participation.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Animal Studies and Human Participants

Further, all procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family DynamicsArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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