A comprehensive theory of gender development must describe and explain long-term developmental patterning and changes and how gender is experienced in the short term. This review considers multiple views on gender patterning, illustrated with contemporary research. First, because developmental research involves understanding normative patterns of change with age, several theoretically important topics illustrate gender development: how children come to recognize gender distinctions and understand stereotypes, and the emergence of prejudice and sexism.
Second, developmental researchers study the stability of individual differences over time, which elucidates developmental processes. Finally, a new approach advances understanding of developmental patterns, based on dynamic systems theory. Dynamic systems theory is a metatheoretical framework for studying stability and change, which developed from the study of complex and nonlinear systems in physics and mathematics.
Some major features and examples show how dynamic approaches have been and could be applied in studying gender development. Understanding the changes that correspond with the passage of time is a hallmark of developmental studies, including the study of gender development. Gender developmental scientists are concerned with age-related changes in gender typing, and more broadly, with many issues about the emergence and patterning of gendered behaviors and thinking.
Description of these changes is vitally important as it informs theoretical approaches to gender development. Using a broad lens on age-related changes provides important information describing how development occurs, but shorter time frames are also useful for identifying processes that may underlie developmental patterns.
Gender developmental scientists are beginning to conceptualize temporal change and measurement of relevant variables over time in more nuanced ways and with new methods and analytic strategies. Our goal in this article is not to provide an extensive review of changes in gender over childhood, but instead to focus on the perspective of developmental patterning. In selecting issues to review, we attempted to find a set of issues that would provide insights into processes underlying gender development while also being representative of contemporary issues and future directions in the field.
First, to highlight developmentalists' interest in average or normative changes across age, we review the timeline of gender development for the emergence of gender understanding and stereotyping and how discrimination and prejudice develop in childhood. Second, we examine continuities within individuals over time as an important theoretical complement to the first focus on mean-level, normative patterns over time. Longitudinal studies are reviewed to examine whether individual differences are stable over time in two areas of gender typing: sex segregation and activities and interests.
Finally, we discuss how dynamic systems theory may be applied in gender development and describe its potential for understanding patterns over different time frames.
The first few years of life and into adolescence have been the focus of much theorizing and empirical research on gender development. Major questions have arisen about the timeline of gender development, and resolving these issues is central to understanding processes underlying gender development.
In this section, we discuss two key aspects of gender development. First, the earliest emergence of gender understanding and behaviors provides insights about the origins of sex differences and the prominence of gender as a social category, and so it is not surprising that these topics have been highlighted in contemporary research on gender development.
Second, because of the far-ranging implications on human social interactions, we review research evidence concerning the emergence of gender prejudice and discrimination. Self-socialization perspectives posit that children actively seek information about what gender means and how it applies to them and that an understanding of gender categories motivates behavior such that, in essence, they socialize themselves see Martin et al.
The evidence needed to resolve this controversy concerns whether behavior becomes increasingly gender typed with the onset of basic gender understanding, and recent findings have extended our knowledge of these fundamental issues. When do children begin to recognize that there are two types of people—males and females—and when are they able to link this information to other qualities to form basic stereotypes? A related question is, when do children recognize their own sex?
Infants as young as three to four months of age distinguish between categories of female and male faces, as demonstrated in habituation and preferential looking paradigms Quinn et al. By about six months, infants can discriminate faces and voices by sex, habituate to faces of both sexes, and make intermodal associations between faces and voices e. By 10 months, infants are able to form stereotypic associations between faces of women and men and gender-typed objects e.
Infants' early associative networks about the sexes may not carry the same conceptual or affective associations that characterize those of older children or adults, although the nature of these associations has yet to be examined in any depth see Martin et al.
Because of the difficulties associated with testing infants, it has been challenging to determine when children first recognize their own or others' sex. Early studies suggested that labeling and understanding of gender may not emerge until about 30 months of age, but more recent studies have moved the age of understanding gender identity and labeling downward. In another non-verbal testing situation, and month old children knew the gender groups to which they and others belonged Stennes et al.
Similarly, most and month-old children select the correct picture in response to gender labels provided by an experimenter Campbell et al. A recent study examined the naturally occurring instances of gender labels e. Information about gender labels was obtained from examining biweekly parent diaries of children's speech from 10 months of age onward. Zosuls and colleagues also analyzed videotapes of the children at 17 months and 21 months playing with a set of toys varying from high to neutral in gender typing.
On average, girls produced labels at 18 months, one month earlier than did boys. These labeling results were used to predict changes in gender-typed behavior with the two most strongly gender-typed toys trucks and dolls. Children who knew and used gender labels were more likely than other children to show increases in gender-typed play with toys. Taken together, these studies suggest that most children develop the ability to label gender groups and to use gender labels in their speech between 18 and 24 months.
As proposed by self-socialization theorists, the results from the Zosuls et al. Developmental researchers have identified that rudimentary stereotypes develop by about two years of age Kuhn et al. Children first show an understanding of sex differences associated with adult possessions e. As children grow older, the range of stereotypes about sports, occupations, school tasks, and adult roles expands, and the nature of the associations becomes more sophisticated e. They appear slower to make horizontal inferences e. For instance, when told about an unfamiliar sex-unspecified child who likes trucks, older children but not younger ones predict that the child also likes playing with airplanes Martin et al.
Concreteness of gendered items influences the ability of younger children to make these property-to-property inferences Bauer et al. The difficulty that children have with these judgments suggests that they may not understand within-sex individual differences. Meta-analytic studies find that stereotypes become more flexible with age Signorella et al.
A longitudinal study of children from 5 to 10 years of age showed a peak in the rigidity of stereotypes at either 5 or 6 years of age and then an increase in flexibility two years later. Neither the timing nor the level of peak rigidity affected the developmental trajectory, suggesting that children generally follow the same normative path across development despite variations in when rigidity starts and how extreme it becomes Trautner et al.
Many questions remain to be answered about the developmental progression in learning the content of stereotypes and in exploring individual differences in patterns of development. For instance, when do children first begin to assume that there are similarities within one sex and dissimilarities between the sexes? Furthermore, how children apply stereotypes once they have learned them is an issue of continuing interest in the field. Recent conceptual analyses suggest a range of factors that likely contribute to the development of stereotypes and prejudice, such as highly salient categorizing dimensions e.
Because recent reviews of Developmental Intergroup Theory have covered the influence of these factors and discussed studies of children's responses to novel stereotyping situations Arthur et al. How do children's evaluations of the two sexes change with age? There has been relatively little research on these topics, but interest has increased recently. Children's growing awareness of membership in a social group i.
Studies are mixed regarding age trends, depending on the measure. Those examining negative versus positive trait ratings suggest that intergroup biases decline in elementary school e. We do not yet know whether and when ingroup favoritism is associated with outgroup derogation. That is, do children actually dislike or have hostile attitudes toward the other sex, or is it simply that children like their own sex better? Because many studies use difference scores, ingroup positivity and outgroup negativity are often confounded Brewer , Cameron et al.
Moreover, Kowalski reports that studies of young children's interactions do involve evaluative comments between boys and girls but rarely involve animosity, suggesting that some researchers may have misinterpreted children's positive ingroup feelings in structured interviews as overt rejection of the other group. On the other hand, studies showing that the other sex is disliked e. The idea is that, unlike most forms of prejudice toward outgroups, negative intergroup attitudes between males and females are likely to be complicated by intimate interdependence and thus are likely to be ambivalent, involving benevolent as well as hostile aspects.
For example, women may be viewed as competitors seeking to gain power over men, but they may also be viewed as angelic put on a pedestal and vulnerable, in need of protection. Men may be resented for their dominance over women but also admired as providers and heroes.
This is an interesting proposal with important implications, but questions remain. First, outgroup negativity in young children can be interpreted differently, as suggested above; their perceptions may be simple and competitive, but not extreme enough to be characterized as hostile.
Perhaps, instead, children's need to master important categorical distinctions coupled with relatively limited cognitive skills make it threatening when peers cross gender boundaries Kowalski Second, young children's attitudes may involve some complexity and ambivalence, but of a different sort than for adults.
For example, young children may dislike members of the other sex because they are boring about girls or rough about boys while still holding positive views about other characteristics of other-sex peers, such as girls are nice and boys play exciting games.
Further examination of different interpretations of preschoolers' ingroup bias is important because knowing what it represents is critical to knowing when to intervene to minimize sexism. When do children become aware of the status difference applied to males and masculine activities relative to females and feminine activities in most cultures? Although studies of gender stereotypes in young children show that they attribute greater power to males and helplessness to females Ruble et al. First, research has found awareness of status differences in occupations typically held by men and women Liben et al.
Children as young as 6 years understood that jobs more likely to be held by men e. A study of perceptions of a high-status job—the U. Second, research has examined the development of children's general perceptions of gender inequalities Neff et al.
The findings showed a notable increase between 7 and 15 years of age in beliefs that males are granted more power and respect than females. Finally, a few recent studies examined children's perceptions of gender discrimination.
Instead, the most frequent explanation was ingroup bias: that men would not vote for women. These findings suggest that even young children are aware of how ingroup biases shape behavior and that they perceive such reasons as more important than institutional discrimination in determining the selection of the president Bigler et al. The findings showed that the younger children were somewhat aware of gender discrimination, but such perceptions were higher in the older group.
Children perceived discrimination, however, only when explicitly told that the teacher may be biased, not when the context was ambiguous. Taken together, these studies suggest that children's awareness of the differential status of the sexes and gender discrimination are relatively late-developing phenomena. Young children show limited awareness, but only when contextual cues e. More subtle awareness of inequities may not emerge until later in elementary school. In what ways might developmental changes in stereotypic beliefs and intergroup attitudes play out in actual choices and behavior?
What little research there is on gender prejudice development has primarily focused on two types: a negative reactions to peers' violations of gender norms and b preferential treatment. Because preschoolers have strong beliefs that boys and girls do different things, they would be expected to respond negatively to gender norm violations. Several early studies found support for this prediction Huston For example, when 3- to 5-year-olds were videotaped while playing with either a male- or female-typed toy e.
Recent research has supported and expanded these findings. Interestingly, one recent study found that preschool children are able to identify children who are more likely to enforce the gender rules and gender-segregated boundaries McGuire et al.