Skip to main content

What can boys and girls do? Preschoolers’ perspectives regarding gender roles across domains of behavior

Abstract

Previous research has examined at what age and in what contexts males and females develop gender-congruent stereotypes. Research indicates that social experience may provide a great influence on the presence of such stereotypes, but this is likely influenced by the development of gender schemas. The current study interviewed 99 children (3–6.5 years) in a sub-rural Midwestern university community. Females (N = 51, M age = 4.6, SD = 0.73) and males (N = 48, M age = 4.6, SD = 0.82) were individually asked who—boys, girls, or both—can do particular (1) occupations, (2) activities, (3) aggressive behaviors, and (4) prosocial behaviors. Generally, males tended to express holding no stereotypic beliefs, indicating gender-congruent expectations for only 2 items in one of the domains; however, females expressed multiple stereotypic beliefs for each of the four contexts. Social and cognitive explanations for these phenomena are discussed. The current study is an important addition to the existing literature in that preschool teachers and parents alike might be able to assist children to better develop activities and behavioral habits such that gender-related stereotypes fail to develop.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Bem, S. L. (1981). Gender schema theory: A cognitive account of sex typing. Psychological Review, 88, 354–364.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bergin, C., Talley, S., & Hamer, L. (2002). Prosocial behaviors of young adolescents: A focus group study. Journal of Adolescence, 26, 13–32. doi:10.1016/S0140-1971(02)00112-4.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Block, J. H. (1983). Differential premises arising from differential socialization of the sexes: Some conjectures. Child Development, 54, 1335–1354. doi:10.2307/1129799.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bussey, K., & Bandura, A. (1999). Social cognitive theory of gender development and differentiation. Psychological Review, 106, 676–713. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.106.4.676.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bussey, K., & Bandura, A. (2004). Social cognitive theory of gender development and functioning. In A. H. Eagly, A. E. Beall, & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), Psychology of gender (pp. 92–119). New York: The Guilford Press. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.1064.676.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cameron, E., Eisenberg, N., & Tryon, K. (1985). The relations between sex-typed play and preschoolers’ social behavior. Sex Roles, 12, 602–615. doi:10.1007/BF00288180.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Carlo, G. (2006). Care-based and altruistically based morality. In M. Killen & J. Smetana (Eds.), Handbook of moral development (pp. 551–579). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.

    Google Scholar 

  • Carlo, G., Hausmann, A., Christiansen, S., & Randall, B. A. (2003). Social cognitive and behavioral correlates of a measure of prosocial tendencies for adolescents. Journal of Early Adolescence, 23, 107–134. doi:10.1177/0272431602239132.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chang, A., Sandhofer, C. M., & Brown, C. S. (2011). Gender biases in early number exposure to preschool aged children. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 30, 440–450. doi:10.1177/0261927X11416207.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Crick, N. R., Bigbee, M. A., & Howes, C. (1996). Gender differences in children’s normative beliefs about aggression: How do I hurt thee? Let me count the ways. Child Development, 67, 1003–1014. doi:10.2307/1131876.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Foster, S. L., Delawyer, D. D., & Guevremont, D. C. (1986). A critical incidents analysis of liked and disliked peer behaviors and their situational parameters in childhood and adolescence. Behavioral Assessment, 8, 115–133.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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/s10643-006-0123-x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Goldstein, S., Tisak, M., & Boxer, P. (2002). Preschoolers’ normative and prescriptive judgments about relational and overt aggression. Early Education and Development, 13, 23–39. doi:10.1207/s15566935eed1301_2.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Grusec, J. E. (2006). The development of moral behavior and conscience from a socialization perspective. In M. Killen & J. Smetana (Eds.), Handbook of moral development (pp. 243–265). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.

    Google Scholar 

  • Halim, M., Ruble, D., Tamis-LeMonda, C., Zosuls, K., Lurye, L., & Greulich, F. (2014). Pink frilly dresses and the avoidance of all things “girly”: Children’s appearance rigidity and cognitive theories of gender development. Developmental Psychology, 50, 1091–1101. doi:10.1037/a0034906.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hastings, P., McShane, K., Parker, R., & Ladha, F. (2007a). Ready to make nice: Parental socialization of young sons’ and daughters’ prosocial behaviors with peers. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 168, 177–200. doi:10.3200/GNTP.168.2.177-200.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hastings, P. D., Utendale, W. T., & Sullivan, C. (2007b). The socialization of prosocial development. In J. E. Grusec & P. D. Hastings (Eds.), Handbook of socialization (pp. 638–664). New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hawley, P. H. (2003). Strategies of control, aggression, and morality in preschoolers: An evolutionary perspective. Journal Experimental Child Psychology, 85, 213–235. doi:10.1016/S0022-0965(03)00073-0.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hay, D. (1994). Prosocial development. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 35, 29–71. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.1994.tb01132.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hofferth, S., & Sandberg, J. (2001). How American children spend their time. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63, 295–308. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2001.00295.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jackson, M., & Tisak, M. (2001). Is prosocial behavior a good thing? Developmental changes in children’s evaluations of helping, sharing, cooperating, and comforting. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 19, 349–367. doi:10.13458/026151001166146.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Levy, G., Sandovsky, A., & Troseth, G. (2000). Aspects of young children’s perceptions of gender-typed occupations. Sex Roles, 42, 993–1006. doi:10.1023/A:1007084516910.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Martin, C. (1990). Attitudes and expectations about children with nontraditional and traditional gender roles. Sex Roles, 22, 151–165. doi:10.1007/BF00288188.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Martin, C., Ruble, D., & Szkrybalo, J. (2002). Cognitive theories of early gender development. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 903–933. doi:10.1037//0033-2909.128.6.903.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Moon, M., & Hoffman, C. D. (2008). Mothers’ and fathers’ differential expectancies and behaviors: Parent X child gender effects. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 164, 261–279. doi:10.3200/GNTP.169.3.261-280.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nucci, L. P., & Turiel, E. (1978). Social interactions and the development of social concepts in preschool children. Child Development, 49, 400–407. doi:10.2307/1128704.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ostrov, J., Crick, N., & Keating, C. (2005). Gender biased perceptions of preschooler behavior: How much is aggression and prosocial behavior in the eye of the beholder? Sex Roles, 52, 393–398. doi:10.1007/s11199-005-2681-6.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ostrov, J., & Keating, C. (2004). Gender differences in preschool aggression during free play and structured interactions: An observational study. Social Development, 13, 255–277. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9507.2004.000266.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Patterson, M. M., & Bigler, R. S. (2006). Preschool children’s attention to environmental messages about groups: Social categorization and the origins of intergroup bias. Child Development, 77, 847–860. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2006.00906.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Persson, G. E. B. (2005). Developmental perspectives on prosocial and aggressive motives in preschoolers’ peer interactions. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 29, 80–91. doi:10.1080/01650250444000423.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pomerantz, E. M., Ng, F. F.-Y., & Wang, Q. (2004). Gender socialization: A parent X child model. In A. H. Eagly, A. E. Beall, & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), Psychology of gender (pp. 120–144). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Powlishta, K. K. (1995). Intergroup processes in childhood: Social categorization and sex role development. Developmental Psychology, 31, 781–788. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.31.5.781.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Prentice, D. A., & Carranza, E. (2002). What women and men should be, shouldn’t be, are allowed to be, and don’t have to be: The contents of prescriptive gender stereotypes. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26, 269–281. http://pwq.sagepub.com/content/26/4/269.full.pdf

  • Raag, T., & Rackliff, C. (1998). Preschoolers’ awareness of social expectations of gender: Relationships to toy choices. Sex Roles, 38, 685–700. doi:10.1023/A:1018890728636.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Russell, A., & Owens, L. (1999). Peer estimates of school-aged boys’ and girl’s aggression to same and cross-sex targets. Social Development, 8, 364–379. doi:10.1111/1467-9507.00101.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Spinrad, T. L., Losoya, S. H., Eisenberg, N., Fabes, R. A., Shepard, S. A., Cumberland, A., et al. (1999). The relations of parental affect and encouragement to children’s moral emotions and behaviour. Journal of Moral Education, 28, 323–337. doi:10.1080/030572499103115.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stoddart, T., & Turiel, E. (1985). Children’s concepts of cross-gender activities. Child Development, 56, 1241–1252.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tamis-LeMonda, C., & McFadden, K. (2009). The United States of America. In M. H. Bornstein (Ed.), Handbook of cultural developmental science (pp. 299–322). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Taylor, M. G. (1996). The development of children’s beliefs about social and biological aspects of gender differences. Child Development, 67, 1555–1571.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tisak, M. S., & Block, J. H. (1990). Preschool children’s evolving conceptions of badness: A Longitudinal study. Early Education and Development, 1, 300–307. doi:10.1207/s15566935eed0104_4.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tisak, M. S., Holub, S. C., & Tisak, J. (2007). What nice things do boys and girls do? Preschoolers’ perspective of peers’ behaviors at and at home. Early Education and Development, 18, 1–17. doi:10.1080/10409280701282686.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tisak, M. S., Nucci, L. P., & Jankowski, A. M. (1996). Preschool children’s social interactions involving moral and prudential transgressions: An observational study. Early Education and Development, 7, 138–148. doi:10.1207/s15566935eed0702_3.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tisak, M. S., Tisak, J., & Goldstein, S. E. (2001). How do young children misbehave in the grocery store and in the school? The preschoolers’ perspective. Early Education and Development, 12, 487–498. doi:10.1207/s15566935eed1204_1.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tisak, M., Tisak, J., & Laurene, K. (2012). Children’s judgments of social interactive behaviors with peers: The influence of age and gender. Social Psychology of Education: An International Journal, 15, 555–570. doi:10.1007/s11218-012-9194-2.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Turiel, E. (1978). The development of concepts of social structure: Social convention. In J. Glick & K. A. Clarke-Stewart (Eds.), The development of social understanding (pp. 25–107). New York: Gardner.

    Google Scholar 

  • U.S. Census Bureau. (2014). The 2012 statistical abstract: Labor force, employment, and earnings. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/cats/labor_force_employment_earnings.html

  • U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2014). News release: American time use survey2013 results. Retrieved from: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.toc.htm

  • Walker, S. (2005). Gender differences in the relationship between young children’s peer-related social competence and individual differences in theory of mind. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 166, 297–312. doi:10.3200/GNTP.166.3.297-312.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Witt, S. D. (2000). The influence of peers on children’s socialization to gender roles. Early Child Development and Care, 162, 1–7. doi:10.1080/0300443001620101.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zosuls, K., Ruble, D., Tamis-LeMonda, C., Shrout, P., Bornstein, M., & Greulich, F. (2009). The acquisition of gender labels in infancy: Implications for sex-typed play. Developmental Psychology, 45, 688–701. doi:10.1037/a0014053.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Erin R. Baker.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Baker, E.R., Tisak, M.S. & Tisak, J. What can boys and girls do? Preschoolers’ perspectives regarding gender roles across domains of behavior. Soc Psychol Educ 19, 23–39 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11218-015-9320-z

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11218-015-9320-z

Keywords

  • Gender stereotypes
  • Preschool gender development
  • Social stereotypes