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

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgements

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.

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Correspondence to Rachel H. Farr.

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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.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Farr, R.H., Bruun, S.T., Doss, K.M. et al. Children’s Gender-Typed Behavior from Early to Middle Childhood in Adoptive Families with Lesbian, Gay, and Heterosexual Parents. Sex Roles 78, 528–541 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-017-0812-5

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Keywords

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