Sex Roles

, Volume 78, Issue 7–8, pp 528–541 | Cite as

Children’s Gender-Typed Behavior from Early to Middle Childhood in Adoptive Families with Lesbian, Gay, and Heterosexual Parents

  • Rachel H. Farr
  • Samuel T. Bruun
  • Kathleen M. Doss
  • Charlotte J. Patterson
Original Article


Gender-typed behaviors—both gender-conforming and nonconforming—were investigated longitudinally among children in 106 adoptive U.S. families with lesbian, gay, and heterosexual parents at two times (Wave 1, preschool-age; Wave 2, school-age) over 5 years. At Wave 1 (W1), parents reported on children’s gender-typed behavior using the Pre-School Activities Inventory (PSAI; Golombok and Rust 1993), and children’s gender-typed toy play was evaluated using observational methods. At Wave 2 (W2), children reported on their own gender-typed behavior using the Children’s Occupations, Activities, and Traits Personal Measure (COAT-PM; Liben and Bigler 2002). Observations of children’s gender-conforming toy play and parents’ reports of children’s gender nonconformity (PSAI) in early childhood (W1) were associated with children’s self-reports of gender nonconformity (COAT-PM) in middle childhood (W2); toy play was most strongly predictive of gender nonconformity 5 years later. Children’s gender-typed behavior also varied by age and gender at both time points, but no significant differences were found as a function of parental sexual orientation across time. Informative to ongoing debates about same-sex parenting, our findings indicate that among children reared by lesbian, gay, and heterosexual parents, gender-typing appears to be similar, and predominantly gender-conforming, across early to middle childhood.


Adoptive parents Early childhood development Gender nonconformity Gender roles Sexual orientation Toy selection 



The present research was supported by funding from the American Psychological Foundation’s Wayne F. Placek Grant awarded to Rachel H. Farr (Wave 2) and the Williams Institute at UCLA to Charlotte J. Patterson (Wave 1). The first author was also supported by funds from the Rudd Family Foundation Chair in Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (Wave 2). We would like to thank the members of our research team who have contributed to the design and execution of the overall project, particularly our coding team. We are also so grateful to all the adoptive families who generously shared their experiences with us and have made this research possible.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

The research was approved by the Institutional Review Boards of the University of Kentucky, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and University of Virginia. Given that this research involved human participants, informed consent was obtained from all participating parents for themselves and their children prior to participating, and assent was also given from children.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Alm, S. (2015). Dreams meeting reality? A gendered perspective on the relationship between occupational preferences in early adolescence and actual occupation in adulthood. Journal of Youth Studies, 18(8), 1077–1095. doi: 10.1080/13676261.2015.1020928.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. American Psychological Association. (2015). Guidelines for psychological practice with transgender and gender nonconforming people. American Psychologist, 70(9), 832–864. doi: 10.1037/a0039906.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderssen, N., Amlie, C., & Ytterøy, E. A. (2002). Outcomes for children with lesbian or gay parents: A review of studies from 1978 to 2000. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 43(4), 335–351. doi: 10.1111/1467-9450.00302.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Baird, C. L. (2012). Going against the flow: A longitudinal study of the effects of cognitive skills and gender beliefs on occupational aspirations and outcomes. Sociological Forum, 27, 986–1009. doi: 10.1111/j.1573-7861.2012.01365.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  6. Banse, R., Gawronski, B., Rebetez, C., Gutt, H., & Morton, J. B. (2010). The development of spontaneous gender stereotyping in childhood: Relations to stereotype knowledge and stereotype flexibility. Developmental Science, 13, 298–306. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2009.00880.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Berenbaum, S. A., & Hines, M. (1992). Early androgens are related to childhood sex-typed toy preferences. Psychological Science, 3, 203–206. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.1992.tb00028.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Biblarz, T. J., & Stacey, J. (2010). How does the gender of parents matter? Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 3–22. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2009.00678.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Blakemore, J. E. O. (2003). Children’s beliefs about violating gender norms: Boys shouldn’t look like girls, and girls shouldn’t act like boys. Sex Roles, 48, 411–419. doi: 10.1023/A:1023574427720.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Blakemore, J. E. O., Berenbaum, S. A., & Liben, L. S. (2009). Gender development. New York: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  11. Bos, H., & Sandfort, T. G. M. (2010). Children’s gender identity in lesbian and heterosexual two-parent families. Sex Roles, 62, 114–126. doi: 10.1007/s11199-009-9704-7.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Cherney, I. D., & London, K. (2006). Gender-linked differences in the toys, television shows, computer games, and outdoor activities of 5- to 13-year-old children. Sex Roles, 54, 717–726. doi: 10.1007/s11199-006-9037-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cherney, I. D., Kelly-Vance, L., Glover, K. G., Ruane, A., & Ryalls, B. O. (2003). The effects of stereotyped toys and gender on play assessment in children aged 18-47 months. Educational Psychology, 23, 95–105. doi: 10.1080/01443410303222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Coyle, E. F., & Liben, L. S. (2016). Affecting girls’ activity and job interests through play: The moderating roles of personal gender salience and game characteristics. Child Development, 87, 414–428. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12463.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Coyne, S. M., Linder, J. R., Rasmussen, E. E., Nelson, D. A., & Collier, K. M. (2014). It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a gender stereotype!: Longitudinal associations between superhero viewing and gender stereotyped play. Sex Roles, 70, 416–430. doi: 10.1007/s11199-014-0374-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dinella, L. M., Weisgram, E. S., & Fulcher, M. (2016). Children’s gender-typed toy interests: Does propulsion matter? Archives of Sexual Behavior. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s10508-016-0901-5.
  17. Dunn, J., & Hughes, C. (2001). ‘I got some swords and you’re dead!’: Violent fantasy, antisocial behavior, friendship, and moral sensibility in young children. Child Development, 72, 491–505. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.00292.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Edwards-Leeper, L., Leibowitz, S., & Sangganjanavanich, V. F. (2016). Affirmative practice with transgender and gender nonconforming youth: Expanding the model. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 3(2), 165–172. doi: 10.1037/sgd0000167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ehrensaft, D. (2016). The gender creative child: Pathways for nurturing and supporting children who live outside gender boxes. New York: The Experiment, LLC.Google Scholar
  20. Farr, R. H. (2017). Does parental sexual orientation matter? A longitudinal follow-up of adoptive families with school-age children. Developmental Psychology, 53(2), 252–264. doi: 10.1037/dev0000228.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Farr, R. H., Forssell, S. L., & Patterson, C. J. (2010). Parenting and child development in adoptive families: Does parental sexual orientation matter? Applied Developmental Science, 14(3), 164–178. doi: 10.1080/10888691.2010.500958.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fedewa, A. L., Black, W. W., & Ahn, S. (2015). Children and adolescents with same-gender parents: A meta-analytic approach in assessing outcomes. Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 11, 1–34. doi: 10.1080/1550428X.2013.869486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Freeman, N. K. (2007). Preschoolers’ perceptions of gender appropriate toys and their parents’ beliefs about genderized behaviors: Miscommunication, mixed messages, or hidden truths? Early Childhood Education Journal, 34, 357–366. doi: 10.1007/s10643-006-0123x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fulcher, M., Sutfin, E. L., & Patterson, C. J. (2008). Individual differences in gender development: Associations with parental sexual orientation, attitudes, and division of labor. Sex Roles, 58, 330–341. doi: 10.1007/s11199-007-9348-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gato, J., & Fontaine, A. M. (2013). Anticipation of the sexual and gender development of children adopted by same-sex couples. International Journal of Psychology, 48(3), 244–253. doi: 10.1080/00207594.2011.645484.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Goldberg, A. E., & Garcia, R. L. (2016). Gender-typed behavior over time in children with lesbian, gay, and heterosexual parents. Journal of Family Psychology, 30(7), 854–865. doi: 10.1037/fam0000226.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  27. Goldberg, A. E., Kashy, D. A., & Smith, J. Z. (2012). Gender-typed play behavior in early childhood: Adopted children with lesbian, gay, and heterosexual parents. Sex Roles, 67, 503–515. doi: 10.1007/s11199-012-0198-3.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  28. Golombok, S., & Rust, J. (1993). The pre-school activities inventory: A standardized assessment of gender role in children. Psychological Assessment, 5(2), 131–136. doi: 10.1037/1040-3590.5.2.131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Golombok, S., Perry, B., Burston, A., Murray, C., Mooney-Somers, J., Stevens, M., & Golding, J. (2003). Children with lesbian parents: A community study. Developmental Psychology, 39, 20–33. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.39.1.20.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Golombok, S., Rust, J., Zervoulis, K., Croudace, T., Golding, J., & Hines, M. (2008). Developmental trajectories of sex-typed behavior in boys and girls: A longitudinal general population study of children aged 2.5-8 years. Child Development, 79(5), 1583–1593. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2008.01207.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Golombok, S., Rust, J., Zervoulis, K., Golding, J., & Hines, M. (2012). Continuity in sex-typed behavior from preschool to adolescence: A longitudinal population study of boys and girls aged 3-13 years. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41(3), 591–597. doi: 10.1007/s10508-011-9784-7.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Golombok, S., Mellish, L., Jennings, S., Casey, P., Tasker, F., & Lamb, M. E. (2014). Adoptive gay father families: Parent-child relationships and children’s psychological adjustment. Child Development, 85, 456–468. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12155.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Halim, M. L., Ruble, D., Tamis-LeMonda, C., & Shrout, P. E. (2013). Rigidity in gender-typed behaviors in early childhood: A longitudinal study of ethnic minority children. Child Development, 84, 1269–1284. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12057.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  34. Iervolino, A. C., Hines, M., Golombok, S. E., Rust, J., & Plomin, R. (2005). Genetic and environmental influences on sex-typed behavior during the preschool years. Child Development, 76, 826–840. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2005.00880.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Jadva, V., Hines, M., & Golombok, S. (2010). Infants’ preferences for toys, colors, and shapes: Sex differences and similarities. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39(6), 1261–1273. doi: 10.1007/s10508-010-9618-z.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Jewell, J. A., & Brown, C. S. (2014). Relations among gender typicality, peer relations, and mental health during early adolescence. Social Development, 23, 137–156. doi: 10.1111/sode.12042.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lamb, M. E. (2012). Mothers, fathers, families, and circumstances: Factors affecting child adjustment. Applied Developmental Science, 16, 98–111. doi: 10.1080/10888691.2012.667344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lamminmäki, A., Hines, M., Kuiri-Hänninen, T., Kilpeläinen, L., Dunkel, L., & Sankilampi, U. (2012). Testosterone measured in infancy predicts subsequent sex-typed behavior in boys and in girls. Hormones and Behavior, 61, 611–616. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2012.02.013.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Leaper, C. (2000). Gender, affiliation, assertion, and the interactive context of parent-child play. Developmental Psychology, 36, 381–393. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.36.3.381.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Leaper, C. (2002). Parenting girls and boys. In M. H. Bornstein (Ed.), Handbook of parenting: Children and parenting (Vol. 1, 2nd ed., pp. 189–225). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  41. Leaper, C., & Farkas, T. (2015). The socialization of gender during childhood and adolescence. In J. E. Grusec & P. D. Hastings (Eds.), Handbook of socialization: Theory and research (2nd ed., pp. 541–565). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  42. Lee, E. E., & Troop-Gordon, W. (2011). Peer processes and gender role development: Changes in gender atypicality related to negative peer treatment and children’s friendships. Sex Roles, 64, 90–102. doi: 10.1007/s11199-010-9883-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Li, R. H., & Wong, W. I. (2016). Gender-typed play and social abilities in boys and girls: Are they related? Sex Roles, 74, 399–410. doi: 10.1007/s11199-016-0580-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Liben, L. S., & Bigler, R. S. (2002). The developmental course of gender differentiation: Conceptualizing, measuring, and evaluating constructs and pathways. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 67(2), vii–147. doi: 10.1111/1540-5834.t01-1-00187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. LoBue, V., & DeLoache, J. S. (2011). Pretty in pink: The early development of gender-stereotyped colour preferences. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 29, 656–667. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-835X.2011.02027.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Lytton, H., & Romney, D. M. (1991). Parents’ differential socialization of boys and girls: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 109(2), 267–296. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.109.2.267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Maccoby, E. E. (1998). The two sexes: Growing up apart, coming together. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press/Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Maccoby, E. E., & Jacklin, C. N. (1987). Gender segregation in childhood. In H. W. Reese (Ed.), Advances in child development and behavior (Vol. 20, pp. 239–287). San Diego, CA: Academic Press. doi: 10.1016/S0065-2407(08)60404-8.Google Scholar
  49. Malpas, J. (2011). Between pink and blue: A multi-dimensional family approach to gender nonconforming children and their families. Family Process, 50(4), 453–470. doi: 10.1111/j.1545-5300.2011.01371.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Martin, C. L. (1993). New directions for investigating children’s gender knowledge. Developmental Review, 13, 184–204. doi: 10.1006/drev.1993.1008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Martin, C. L., Wood, C. H., & Little, J. K. (1990). The development of gender stereotype components. Child Development, 61, 1891–1904. doi: 10.2307/1130845.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Moore, M. R., & Stambolis-Ruhstorfer, M. (2013). LGBT sexuality and families at the start of the twenty-first century. Annual Review of Sociology, 39, 491–507. doi: 10.1146/annurev-soc-071312-145643.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Patterson, C. J. (2017). Parents’ sexual orientation and children’s development. Child Development Perspectives, 11, 45–49. doi: 10.1111/cdep.12207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Raag, T., & Rackliff, C. L. (1998). Preschoolers’ awareness of social expectations of gender: Relationships to toy choices. Sex Roles, 38, 685–700. doi: 10.1023/A:1018890728636.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Ruble, D. N., Martin, C. L., & Berenbaum, S. A. (2006). Gender development. In N. Eisenberg, W. Damon, & R. M. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Social, emotional, and personality development (Vol. 3, 6th ed., pp. 858–932). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.Google Scholar
  56. Schulevitz, J. (2016, October 15). Is it time to desegregate the sexes? The New York Times. Retrieved from
  57. Serbin, L. A., & Sprafkin, C. (1986). The salience of gender and the process of sex typing in three- to seven-year-old children. Child Development, 57, 1188–1199. doi: 10.2307/1130442.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Serbin, L. A., Powlishta, K. K., & Gulko, J. (1993). The development of sex typing in middle childhood. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 13, 373–388. doi: 10.2307/1166118.Google Scholar
  59. Serbin, L. A., Poulin-Dubois, D., Colburne, K. A., Sen, M. G., & Eichstedt, J. A. (2001). Gender stereotyping in infancy: Visual preferences for and knowledge of gender-stereotyped toys in the second year. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 25, 7–15. doi: 10.1080/01650250042000078.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Snow, M. E., Jacklin, C. N., & Maccoby, E. E. (1983). Sex-of-child differences in father-child interactions at one year of age. Child Development, 54, 227–232. doi: 10.2307/1129880.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Sumontha, J., Farr, R. H., & Patterson, C. J. (2017). Children’s gender development: Associations with parental sexual orientation, division of labor, and gender ideology. Manuscript under review.Google Scholar
  62. Sutfin, E. L., Fulcher, M., Bowles, R. P., & Patterson, C. J. (2008). How lesbian and heterosexual parents convey attitudes about gender to their children: The role of gendered environments. Sex Roles, 58, 501–513. doi: 10.1007/s11199-007-9368-0.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Weisgram, E. S., Bigler, R. S., & Liben, L. S. (2010). Gender, values, and occupational interests among children, adolescents, and adults. Child Development, 81, 778–796. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01433.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rachel H. Farr
    • 1
  • Samuel T. Bruun
    • 1
  • Kathleen M. Doss
    • 2
  • Charlotte J. Patterson
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of KentuckyLexingtonUSA
  2. 2.School of MedicineUniversity of North CarolinaChapel HillUSA
  3. 3.Departments of Psychology and Women, Gender, & SexualityUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations