Gender segregation is often explained by children being interested in interacting with other children who behave similarly to themselves. Children’s beliefs about girls and boys (i.e., their gender cognitions) may also play a role in gender segregation, but this idea has received little attention. In this study, we proposed a model of gender segregation that included similarity on gender-typed behavioral qualities (e.g., rough and tumble play) and gender cognitions concerning perceived similarity to same-gender others, and we assessed whether this more comprehensive heuristic model predicted observed peer interactions in young U.S. children (n = 74; M age = 51 m; middle-class families). A multi-method design was employed including observations of behavior and child reports of gender cognitions. Support was found for the linkages proposed in this comprehensive model for boys; partial support was found for girls. Specifically, the inclusion of gender cognitions was supported for both genders: gender cognitions about perceived similarity related to interactional partner choices for both girls and boys, and accounted for variance in observed partner choices even after behavioral similarity was included in the model. The traditional link concerning behavioral similarity on rough-and-tumble play predicted boys’ but not girls’ interactions. The findings extend knowledge about the role of social cognitions in social behavior, and are consistent with ideas proposed by gender schema theory and other constructivist theories.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Alexander, G. M., & Hines, M. (1994). Gender labels and play styles: Their relative contribution to children’s selection of playmates. Child Development, 65, 869–879. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.1994.tb00789.
Barbu, S., Le-Maner-Idrissi, G., & Jouanjean, A. (2000). The emergence of gender segregation: Towards an integrative perspective. Current Psychology Letters: Behavior, Brain, and Cognition, 3, 7–18.
Bem, S. L. (1981). Gender schema theory: A cognitive account of sex typing. Psychological Review, 88, 354–364. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.88.4.354.
Bem, D. J. (1996). Exotic becomes erotic: A developmental theory of sexual orientation. Psychological Review, 103, 320–335. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.103.2.320.
Bigler, R. S., & Liben, L. S. (2006). A developmental intergroup theory of social stereotypes and prejudice. In R. V. Kail (Ed.), Advances in child development and behavior (Vol. 34, pp. 39–89). San Diego: Elsevier.
Bigler, R. S., & Liben, L. S. (2007). Developmental intergroup theory: Explaining and reducing children’s social stereotyping and prejudice. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 162–166. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8721.2007.00496.
Bradbard, M. R., & Endsley, R. C. (1983). The effects of sex-typed labeling on preschool children’s information-seeking and retention. Sex Roles, 9, 247–260. doi:10.1007/BF00289627.
Bradbard, M. R., Martin, C. L., Endsley, R. C., & Halverson, C. F. (1986). Influence of sex stereotypes on children’s exploration and memory: A competence versus performance distinction. Developmental Psychology, 22, 481–486. doi:10.1037//0012-16188.8.131.521.
Bukowski, W. H., Gauze, C., Hoza, B., & Newcomb, A. F. (1993). Differences and consistency between same-sex and other-sex peer relationships during early adolescence. Developmental Psychology, 29, 255–263. doi:10.1037/0012-16184.108.40.206.
Campbell, A., & Shirley, L. (2002). Sex-typed preferences in three domains: Do two-year-olds need cognitive variables? British Journal of Psychology, 93, 203–217. doi:10.1348/000712602162544.
Davies, D. R. (1986). Children’s performance as a function of sex-typed labels. British Journal of Social Psychology, 25, 173–175.
Davies, D. R. (1989). The effects of gender-typed labels on children’s performance. Current Psychology: Research & Reviews, 8, 267–272. doi:10.1007/BF02686725.
Dishion, T. J., Patterson, G. R., & Griesler, P. C. (1994). Peer adaptions in the development of antisocial behavior: A confluence model. In L. R. Huesmann (Ed.), Aggressive behavior: Current perspectives (pp. 61–95). New York: Plenum.
Eaton, W. O., & Enns, L. R. (1986). Sex differences in human motor activity level. Psychological Bulletin, 100, 19–28. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.100.1.19.
Egan, S. K., & Perry, D. G. (2001). Gender identity: A multidimensional analysis with implications for psychosocial adjustment. Developmental Psychology, 37, 451–463. doi:10.1037/0012-16220.127.116.111.
Ennett, S. T., & Bauman, K. E. (1994). The contribution of influence and selection to adolescent peer group homogeneity: The case of adolescent cigarette smoking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 653–663. doi:10.1037//0022-3518.104.22.1683.
Espelange, D. L., Holt, M. K., & Henkel, R. R. (2003). Examination of peer-group contextual effects on aggression during early adolescence. Child Development, 74, 205–220. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00531.
Fabes, R. A. (1994). Physiological, emotional, and behavioral correlates of gender segregation. In C. Leaper (Ed.), Childhood gender segregation: Causes and consequences. New directions for child development (Vol. 65, pp. 19–34). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. doi:10.1002/cd.23219946504.
Fabes, R. A., Martin, C. L., & Hanish, L. D. (2003). Young children’s play qualities in same-, other-, and mixed-sex peer groups. Child Development, 74, 921–932. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00576.
Freedman, D. G. (1980). Sexual dimorphism and the status hierarchy. In D. R. Omark, F. F. Strayer, & D. G. Freedman (Eds.), Dominance relations (pp. 261–271). New York: Garland S. T. P. M. Press.
Geary, D. C. (1999). Evolution and developmental sex differences. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 8, 115–120. doi:10.1111/1467-8721.00027.
Gelman, S. A., Taylor, M. G. Nguyen, S. P., Leaper, C., & Bigler, R. S. (2004). Mother-child conversations about gender: Understanding the acquisition of essentialist beliefs. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 69(1). doi:10.1111/j.0037-976X.2004.00276.x
Hanish, L. D., Martin, C. L., Fabes, R. A., Leonard, S., & Herzog, M. (2005). Exposure to externalizing peers in early childhood: Homophily and peer contagion processes. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 33, 267–281. doi:10.1007/s10802-005-3564-6.
Harris, J. R. (1995). Where is the child’s environment? Psychological Review, 102, 458–489. doi:10.1037//0033-295X.102.3.458.
Hoffman, M. L., & Powlishta, K. K. (2001). Gender segregation in childhood: A test of the interaction style theory. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 162, 298–313. doi:10.1080/00221320109597485.
Howes, C. (1988). Same- and cross-sex friends: Implications for interaction and social skills. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 3, 21–37. doi:10.1016/0885-2006(88)90027-0.
Kandel, D. B. (1978). Homophily, selection, and socialization in adolescent friendships. The American Journal of Sociology, 84, 427–436. doi:10.1086/226792.
Leaper, C. (1994). Exploring the consequences of gender segregation on social relationships. In C. Leaper (Ed.), Childhood gender segregation: causes and consequences (pp. 67–86). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. doi:10.1002/cd.23219946507.
Liben, L. S., & Bigler, R. S. (2002). The developmental course of gender differentiation. In W. Overton (Ed.), Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development (Vol. 67, pp. 22–39). Boston: Blackwell. doi:10.1111/1540-5834.t01-1-00190.
Liben, L. S., & Signorella, M. L. (1987). Children’s gender schemata vol. 38. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Maccoby, E. E. (1990). Gender and relationships: A developmental account. American Psychologist, 45, 513–520. doi:10.1037//0003-066X.45.4.513.
Maccoby, E. E. (1994). Commentary: gender segregation in childhood. In C. Leaper (Ed.), Childhood gender segregation: causes and consequences (Vol. 65, pp. 87–97). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Maccoby, E. E. (1998). The two sexes: Growing up apart, coming together. Cambridge: Belknap Press.
Maccoby, E. E. (2000). Perspectives on gender development. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 24, 398–406. doi:10.1080/016502500750037946.
Maccoby, E. E., & Jacklin, C. N. (1987). Gender segregation in childhood. In W. R. Hayne (Ed.), Advances in child development and behavior (Vol. 20, pp. 239–287). Orlando: Academic Press.
Martin, C. L. (1989). Children's use of gender-related information in making social judgments. Developmental Psychology, 25(1), 80–88.
Martin, C. L. (2000). Cognitive theories of gender development. In T. Eckes & H. M. Trautner (Eds.), The developmental social psychology of gender (pp. 91–121). New Jersey: Erlbaum.
Martin, C. L., & Fabes, R. A. (2001). The stability and consequences of young children’s same-sex peer interactions. Developmental Psychology, 37, 431–446. doi:10.1037//0012-1622.214.171.1241.
Martin, C. L., & Halverson, C. (1981). A schematic processing model of sex typing and stereotyping in children. Child Development, 52, 1119–1134. doi:10.2307/1129498.
Martin, C. L., & Halverson, C. F. (1983). The effects of sex-typing schemas on young children’s memory. Child Development, 54, 563–574. doi:10.2307/1130043.
Martin, C. L., & Halverson, C. F. (1987). The roles of cognition in sex role acquisition. In D. B. Carter (Ed.), Current conceptions of sex roles and sex typing: Theory and research (pp. 123–137). NY: Praeger Publishers.
Martin, C. L., Eisenbud, L., & Rose, H. (1995). Children’s gender-based reasoning about toys. Child Development, 66, 1453–1471. doi:10.2307/1131657.
Martin, C. L., Fabes, R. A., Evans, S. M., & Wyman, H. (1999). Social cognition on the playground: Children’s beliefs about playing with girls versus boys and their relations to sex segregated play. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 16, 751–771. doi:10.1177/0265407599166005.
Martin, C. L., Ruble, D. N., & Szkrybalo, J. (2002). Cognitive theories of early gender development. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 903–933. doi:10.1037//0033-2909.128.6.903.
Martin, C. L., Kornienko, O., Schaefer, D. R. Hanish, L., Fabes, R. A., & Goble, P. (2010). The role of sex of peers and gender-typed activities in young children’s peer affiliative networks: A longitudinal analysis of selection and influence. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Mehta, C. M., & Strough, J. (2009). Sex segregation in friendships and normative contexts across the life span. Developmental Review, 29, 201–220. doi:10.1016/j.dr.2009.06.001.
Miller, C. F., Ruble, D. N., & Traunter, H. M. (2004). The role of gender stereotypes in children’s preferences and behavior. In C. Tamis-LeMonda & L. Balter (Eds.), Child psychology: A handbook of contemporary issues (2nd ed.). Philadelphia: Psychology Press.
Pellegrini, A. D. (1987). Rough-and-tumble play: Developmental and educational significance. Educational Psychologist, 22, 23–43. doi:10.1207/s15326985ep2201_2.
Powlishta, K. K. (1995). Intergroup processes in childhood: Social categorization and sex-role development. Developmental Psychology, 31, 781–788. doi:10.1037//0012-16126.96.36.1991.
Powlishta, K. K., Serbin, L. A., & Moller, L. C. (1993). The stability of individual differences in gender typing: Implications for understanding gender segregation. Sex Roles, 29, 723–737. doi:10.1007/BF00289214.
Rubin, K. H., Lynch, D., Coplan, R., Rose-Krasnor, L., & Booth, C. L. (1994). “Birds of a feather…”: Behavioral concordances and preferential personal attraction in children. Child Development, 65, 1778–1785. doi:10.2307/1131293.
Ruble, D. N., Martin, C. L., & Berenbaum, S. A. (2006). Gender development. In N. Eisenberg (Ed.), Handbook of child development (pp. 858–932). New York: Wiley.
Schaefer, D. R., Light, J. M., Fabes, R. A., Hanish, L. D., & Martin, C. L. (2010). Fundamental principles of network formation among preschool children. Social Networks, 32, 61–71.
Serbin, L. A., Moller, L. C., Gulko, J., Powlishta, K. K., & Colburne, K. A. (1994). The emergence of gender segregation in toddler playgroups. In: C. Leaper (Ed.), Childhood gender segregation: Causes and consequences. New directions for child development, No. 65. (pp. 7–17). SF: Jossey-Bass. doi:10.1002/cd.23219946503
Thornberry, T. P., Lizotte, A. J., Krohn, M. D., Franworth, M., & Jang, S. J. (1994). Delinquent peers’ beliefs and delinquent behavior: A longitudinal test of interaction theory. Criminology, 32, 47–83. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9125.1994.tb01146.x.
Waldrop, M. F., & Halverson, C. (1975). Intensive and extensive peer behavior: Longitudinal and cross-sectional analyses. Child Development, 46, 19–26. doi:10.2307/1128829.
Winer, B. J. (1962). Statistical principles in experimental design. New York City: McGraw-Hill. doi:10.1037/11774-001.
Zosuls, K. M., Martin, C. L., Ruble, D. N., Miller, C. F., Gaertner, B. M., England, D. E., & Hill, A. P. (2011). “It’s not that we hate you”: Understanding children’s attitudes and expectancies about peer relationships. British Journal of Developmental Psychology. 29, 288–304. doi:10.1111/j.2044-835X.2010.02023.x
About this article
Cite this article
Martin, C.L., Fabes, R.A., Hanish, L. et al. Experienced and Expected Similarity to Same-Gender Peers: Moving Toward a Comprehensive Model of Gender Segregation. Sex Roles 65, 421–434 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-011-0029-y
- Gender cognition
- Gender schemas