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Gender and height: Developmental patterns in knowledge and use of an accurate stereotype

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Abstract

The belief that men are taller than women is an accurate gender stereotype that is presumably learned through everyday encounters with men and women. It is unlike most gender beliefs that are difficult to quantify and verify, and that may be learned through means other than direct experience. This research makes use of several advantages available when studying an accurate stereotype (e.g., the ability to know the “truth” about judged targets). Subjects from five different age/grade levels (kindergarten, third grade, seventh grade, tenth grade, and college, N=491, 92.26% Caucasian, 7.54% Arabic, 0.2% African American) made judgments of “who is taller” among photographed male—female pairs that had actually been matched in height. Judgments were made of kindergarten, seventh grade, and college photo pairs. In a developmental context, height judgments are particularly interesting because the gender difference in height changes at different ages—specifically, girls are taller than boys around seventh grade. The data indicated that subjects were sensitive to the changing height stereotype—i.e., they judged adult males taller than adult females, but seventh grade females taller than seventh-grade males. However this was most strikingly true among subjects directly faced with this reality in their peer context—seventh graders—and among college students. Height judgments were also sensitive to an ingroup (gender) bias. The data are discussed in reference to the broader literature on stereotyping and base rate influences on judgment.

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This article is based on a doctoral dissertation submitted to the University of Michigan. The research was supported by a grant from the Horace Rackham School of Graduate Studies, and by an NIMH training grant in Social Environment and Health to the University of Michigan. The paper benefited from the helpful comments of Chris Crandall and two anonymous reviewers.

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Biernat, M. Gender and height: Developmental patterns in knowledge and use of an accurate stereotype. Sex Roles 29, 691–713 (1993). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00289212

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