Lifespan Development

The Psychology of Women and Gender: Half the Human Experience + - Nicole M. Else-Quest, Janet Shibley Hyde 2018

Lifespan Development

In May 2011, reporters revealed that a Toronto couple was hiding the gender of their 4-month-old baby, hoping that the child would receive more gender-neutral treatment and not be stereotyped (Blackwell, 2011). They named the baby Storm.

Meanwhile, on television there was a series called Toddlers and Tiaras, in which girls as young as 4 were thrust into elaborate dresses and “dolled up” with heavy makeup and pouffy hairdos to compete in a beauty pageant for tots. No gender neutrality for them.

These two cases represent the extremes of the gender development questions facing parents and their children growing up today. Some parents want their kids to be treated equally and without the constraints of gender roles and gender stereotypes. By contrast, others think that the best thing to do is to teach their daughters how to be feminine and their sons how to be masculine. Parents of transgender and gender nonconforming kids face similar questions about gender, often with an additional level of complexity. The decisions parents make about how to raise their children are often rooted in personal and cultural values, which can make questions about gender development very controversial.

In this chapter we will consider gender development over the lifespan and the extensive cultural forces that act to shape that development. Although most of the available research focuses on the development of cisgender individuals, we discuss research on trans individuals whenever possible. We focus our discussion on key developmental issues within the broad stages of infancy, childhood, adolescence, emerging adulthood, adulthood, and later adulthood.


Developmental psychologists have spent an extraordinary amount of time studying children, particularly preschoolers and infants. Investigations of infant gender differences generally have involved two primary lines of reasoning. First, some have reasoned that, if gender differences are found in newborns, then those differences must surely be innate and the result of biological factors, because gender role socialization can scarcely have had time to have an effect. The idea, then, is to try to discover which gender differences are innate by studying newborns.

Second, many investigators think it is important to study the way parents and other adults treat infants, to discover the subtle (and perhaps not-so-subtle) differences in the way adults treat boy babies and girl babies, beginning the process of socialization at a tender age. The logic in this line of reasoning is that boys and girls are socialized to be different. We review research in these two areas below and also discuss what infants appear to know about gender.

Gender Differences in Infant Behavior

Most infant behaviors do not show gender differences. That is, gender similarities are the rule for most behaviors and traits, such as infant temperament. As noted in Chapter 6, researchers use the term temperament to refer to biologically based emotional and behavioral traits that appear early in life and predict later behaviors, personality, and psychological problems. A meta-analysis of studies of temperament in infancy and childhood found evidence of gender similarities as well as gender differences (Else-Quest et al., 2006). For example, male and female infants display equal amounts of sociability, shyness, soothability, and adaptability (Else-Quest, 2012; Else-Quest et al., 2006). Boys and girls also do not differ in how intense their moods are or how easy or difficult they are to care for. Nonetheless, a few notable gender differences in temperament exist.

One significant gender difference in temperament is in activity level. In small infants, this may be measured by counting the number of times they swing their arms or kick their legs. In older babies, it might be measured by counting the number of squares the baby crawls across on a playroom floor. Researchers may also ask parents how much a baby moves their limbs during activities such as having a bath. Meta-analyses have reported small but consistent gender differences in infants’ activity level, d = 0.13 to 0.29 (D. W. Campbell & Eaton, 1999; Else-Quest et al., 2006). That is, male infants are more physically active than female infants. However, this gender difference changes across development. Effect sizes of gender differences in activity grow larger as children mature but then shrink in adolescence and become negligible in adulthood (Else-Quest, 2012).

Girls do better on tests of inhibitory control, d = —0.41, which is a medium-sized difference. This means that girls are better at controlling impulsive or inappropriate behaviors, which is definitely an asset in situations such as school. Similarly, girls also display better regulation of their attention; they can focus and shift their attention when they need to. Gender differences in attention focusing (d = —0.15) and purposeful attention shifting (d = —0.31) are small. Girls show greater perceptual sensitivity than boys, d = —0.38, a medium-sized difference. Perceptual sensitivity refers to awareness of subtle changes in the environment. Essentially, girls notice more about what is around them than boys do. While all these differences may make the transition to school a bit more challenging for boys, who are more active, less able to regulate their attention, and less perceptually sensitive, there is evidence that boys eventually catch up to girls and the differences become negligible (Else-Quest, 2012). That is, boys may mature a bit later than girls.

Adults’ Treatment of Infants

The other area of interest in infant gender differences research concerns whether parents and other adults treat female and male babies differently. In one clever study, mothers of 11-month-old babies were asked to estimate how steep a slope their infant could successfully crawl down (Mondschein et al., 2000). Mothers of boys estimated that they would be successful at steeper slopes than mothers of girls did. Thus, even in infancy, parents have different expectations for their sons than for their daughters, and parents’ expectations do have an impact on their children. It’s important to bear in mind, however, that not only do parents influence infants, but infants also influence parents. Therefore, if differences exist in the behavior of boys and girls, these may cause the differences in parental treatment rather than the reverse. In the study described above, though, the boy and girl babies did not differ significantly in their crawling performance.

Some researchers have proposed that, if adults treat baby girls and baby boys differently, they do so in subtle and complex ways. For example, one longitudinal study examined how mothers handled and touched their babies, arguing that complex combinations of simple behaviors create a pattern of gender-differentiated treatment and ultimately foster gender differences in children’s behaviors (Fausto-Sterling et al., 2015). The researchers observed a group of mother—infant dyads on a weekly basis starting at 3 months and ending at 12 months. The researchers videotaped the dyads and measured the frequency and duration of the behaviors of both the mothers and the babies. Although the babies showed no gender differences in their behaviors (e.g., crying, grasping, rolling), the mothers appeared to touch their sons and daughters differently. That is, the mothers not only touched their infant sons more than their infant daughters overall, but also touched them in different ways. For example, mothers tended to use more affectionate and care-taking touch with their daughters, such as cleaning and snuggling. With sons, mothers used more stimulatory touch, such as jiggling or rocking the infant and moving their limbs, and instrumental touch, such as shifting the infant’s position or assisting with locomotion. The differences were especially pronounced in the early months, when mothers tend to touch their infants the most. The authors proposed that these early gender-differentiated behaviors may underlie eventual gender differences in motor activity and play behaviors, such as girls’ preference for play-grooming and boys’ preference for rough-and-tumble play.

Photo 7.1 Research by Anne Fausto-Sterling and her colleagues (2015) indicates that mothers touch their infant sons more than their infant daughters and in different ways.



Gender Learning in Infancy

Infants begin learning about and categorizing gender at surprisingly young ages. Infancy researchers use several clever techniques to ascertain how and what infants perceive or know, and these techniques have been applied to the study of infant gender learning. One technique is the habituation paradigm, in which an infant is shown the same stimulus (e.g., a picture of a face) repeatedly until the infant habituates or gets used to it. If a new stimulus is presented, the infant responds with interest and a change in heart rate. Thus, for example, a researcher could habituate a baby to a set of pictures of different female faces. When a new female face is presented, the baby still acts habituated because the stimulus belongs to the same category (i.e., female). But if a male face is presented, the infant shows interest and a change in heart rate. Such a pattern of responding would show that the baby responds to male faces as being in a different category than female faces. While newborn infants do not appear to distinguish between male and female faces, this ability develops sometime between birth and 3 months of age (P. C. Quinn et al., 2008).

A similar technique is the preferential looking paradigm, in which researchers measure how long babies look at particular stimuli to assess which stimuli the baby prefers to look at. Research using this technique has found that, by 3 to 4 months, infants who have female caregivers prefer to look at female faces instead of male faces (P. C. Quinn et al., 2002).

And by 5 months, infants are sensitive to the distinction between typical male bodies and typical female bodies (Hock et al., 2015). For example, one study showed infants pairs of photographs and measured their looking direction and duration. The photographs were of people who were gender congruent (either a masculine body with a masculine face or a feminine body with a feminine face) and gender incongruent (modified photographs of either a feminine body with a masculine face or a masculine body with a feminine face). These images are shown in Figure 7.1. While 3.5-month-olds showed no preference for photographs of gender congruent or gender incongruent people, 5-month-olds preferred to look at the gender incongruent photographs. Presumably, the older babies preferred looking at the gender incongruent people because they were novel or more interesting than gender congruent people.

An important implication of these studies on babies’ gender learning is that humans do not appear to innately categorize gender as a binary system. Rather, we learn to understand gender as having two categories that do not overlap. So as gender nonconformity becomes more common and children see greater gender diversity in their social world, might we expect this preference for gender incongruent people to change? This is a question that future researchers may want to pose.


Gender Differences in Child Behavior

Already by the early preschool years, several reliable gender differences have appeared. One is in toy and game preference. Preschool children between the ages of 2 and 3 tend to have a strong preference for gender-typed toys and same-gender playmates (Blakemore et al., 2009). In the United States and many other nations, girls prefer dolls and doll accessories, arts and crafts, and fashion, whereas boys prefer guns and transportation toys. Boys are particularly resistant to playing with girl-stereotyped toys (Green et al., 2004; Leaper, 2015). The result is strong gender segregation in childhood, a point we will explore in more detail below.

Figure 7.1 Images used by Hock and colleagues (2015) to ascertain infants’ knowledge of gender categories.


Source: Hock et al. (2015).

Another difference that appears early is in aggressive behavior. About as soon as aggressive behavior appears in children, around the age of 2, gender differences are found; boys are more aggressive than girls. This difference persists throughout the school years (see Chapter 3). It is also found in a wide variety of cultures, from North America to Africa (Best & Thomas, 2004).

Gender Learning in Childhood

If you ask a typically developing 3-year-old girl whether she is a boy or a girl, she will likely answer that she is a girl. But if you ask her whether she can grow up to be a daddy, she may answer yes. A 6- or 7-year-old girl will probably answer this question differently. The 3-year-old understands some aspects of the concept of gender, but has not yet developed gender constancy—the understanding that gender is a stable and consistent part of oneself—which develops in three stages, according to Kohlberg’s cognitive developmental theory (introduced in Chapter 2). The first stage is the development of gender identity, in which children can identify and label themselves, as well as others, as boys or girls; gender identity develops around 18 months to 2 years (Kohlberg, 1966; Zosuls et al., 2009). However, at this stage a girl may feel strongly that when she grows up she can be a boy if she wants to. (We think it’s worth remembering that, while most people today believe that their gender is permanent, a critique of the gender binary questions this assumption.)

Gender constancy: The understanding that gender is a stable and consistent part of oneself.

Gender identity: The first stage of gender constancy development, in which children can identify and label their own gender and the gender of others.

The second stage of gender constancy is the development of gender stability, which happens around 3 to 4 years of age and refers to the understanding that gender is stable over time. Yet a 4-year-old girl with a firm grasp of gender stability may still insist that if she wears pants she will no longer be a girl. Once kids understand that gender is generally stable over time, they go through a period of rigidity in adhering to gender norms. One example of this behavior is appearance rigidity (that is, rigid adherence to gender norms in appearance), such as wearing highly masculine or feminine clothing and avoiding clothes typical of another gender.

Gender stability: The second stage of gender constancy development, in which children understand that gender is stable over time.

Appearance rigidity: Rigid adherence to gender norms in appearance, such as wearing highly masculine or feminine clothing and avoiding clothes typical of another gender.

There is some evidence that appearance rigidity is higher in girls than in boys. One study of ethnically diverse 4-year-olds found that appearance rigidity was widespread (Halim et al., 2014). A few interesting patterns emerged in the comparisons across gender and ethnic groups. First, gender differences in appearance rigidity were found among Chinese American, African American, and White children. This difference was largest in White children: Only a minority (11%) of White boys exhibited appearance rigidity, compared with a majority (68%) of White girls. By contrast, among the Latinx (specifically, Mexican American and Dominican) children, boys and girls were equally likely to exhibit appearance rigidity. The salience of gender and the importance of adhering to gender norms differs across the intersection of gender and ethnicity in the United States.

In the third stage of gender constancy development, between 5 and 7 years of age, gender consistency develops and kids become more flexible about gender stereotypes. Gender consistency is the understanding that gender remains consistent despite superficial changes in appearance (such as wearing dresses instead of pants). After gender constancy is fully developed, then, children become more flexible because they know that playing with gender-stereotyped toys or wearing gender-typed clothing won’t have any effect on their gender (Leaper, 2015). Yet this potential for flexibility doesn’t mean that children start engaging in cross-gender-typed behaviors en masse. Kohlberg theorized that the acquisition of gender constancy is critical for the acquisition of gender roles. That is, once the little girl knows that her gender is a constant part of herself, gender becomes much more important to her. Motivated to have a positive sense of self, the girl comes to see femininity as good and then associates this valuation with cultural stereotypes and roles, so the female role becomes attractive and important to her. Thus, children are motivated to adopt gender roles as part of their attempt to understand their world and develop a stable and positive sense of self.

Gender consistency: The third stage of gender constancy development, in which children understand that gender remains consistent despite superficial changes in appearance.

In short, preschoolers rapidly become little gender essentialists, believing that differences between women and men are large and unalterable, and that there can be no behavioral overlap between the categories (Gelman et al., 2004).

Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Child Development

For transgender and gender nonconforming children, gender development may progress differently. Their gender identity does not match the gender label that adults have given them, so conflict can arise. This gender dysphoria, and the social conflicts that may ensue, can be very distressing for children; like anyone else, children want to feel confident and sure of themselves as well as accepted and understood by others. Adults may respond with concerns that there is something wrong with the child or that the child isn’t developing “normally” (Edwards-Leeper et al., 2016; Olson et al., 2015). What do we know about gender development for transgender and gender nonconforming children?

Gender dysphoria: Discomfort or distress related to incongruence between a person’s gender identity, sex assigned at birth, and/or primary and secondary sex characteristics.

Historically, transgender children have been met with skepticism (Olson et al., 2015). That is, others have viewed transgender kids as being confused about their gender identity, delayed in their gender constancy development, oppositional, or just plain pretending. How do we know if a child’s expression of their gender identity is the “true” one? While there isn’t a wealth of research on the gender development of transgender children specifically, or even gender nonconforming children generally, there are a handful of well-designed studies that help us understand these children and how best to support them and promote their healthy development.

Photo 7.2 Gender essentialists? Young children’s thinking about gender changes as they develop gender constancy.



For example, one study recruited three groups of 5- to 12-year-old children and compared them on implicit and explicit measures of gender identity and preferences (Olson et al., 2015). The first group was composed of transgender children who presented themselves consistent with their gender identity (i.e., they did not appear to match the gender assigned at birth); the second group was composed of their cisgender siblings; the third group was composed of cisgender children who were of the same gender identity, age, verbal IQ, and socioeconomic status as the transgender kids. The researchers measured the children’s explicit gender identity and preferences, such as whether they preferred to play with same- or other-gender peers and whether they preferred toys appropriate for a particular gender. Implicit measures of gender identity and preferences were also included, using the Implicit Association Test (discussed in Chapter 3). The researchers reasoned that, if transgender children were confused, delayed, oppositional, or pretending when it came to their gender identity, their responses to the implicit and explicit measures would be inconsistent or maybe even random. Yet the pattern of results was striking and unambiguous: The transgender children were indistinguishable from two groups of cisgender children when matched on gender identity. When matched on gender assigned at birth, the transgender children differed significantly from the two groups of cisgender children. In other words, the evidence indicated that the transgender children were not confused, delayed, oppositional, or pretending. The children’s gender identity was deeply felt and true to themselves, and it was clearly inconsistent with their gender assigned at birth.

Photo 7.3 Much more research with gender nonconforming children is needed in order to support their development and well-being.



Nonetheless, not all gender nonconforming children will go on developing with a gender identity that doesn’t match their gender assigned at birth (Edwards-Leeper et al., 2016). The evidence suggests that for many gender nonconforming children, their gender dysphoria will abate and their gender identity will eventually become consistent with the gender they were assigned at birth (Drummond et al., 2008; Steensma et al., 2013; Wallien & Cohen-Kettenis, 2008). Somewhere between 12% and 50% of children diagnosed with gender dysphoria will continue to identify their gender as inconsistent with their gender assigned at birth, but there is controversy about these estimates (American Psychological Association [APA], 2015). How do we know which kids will continue to be transgender? It seems that gender nonconforming children whose gender identity is very intense in childhood are more likely to continue with that gender identity and are less likely to identify with their gender assigned at birth (Steensma et al., 2013). In addition, kids whose gender dysphoria continues or intensifies in adolescence are also more likely to identify their gender as different from their gender assigned at birth (APA, 2015).

For these reasons, researchers have concluded that there is no “one size fits all” approach and have advocated that we approach the care of each transgender or gender nonconforming child individually (Edwards-Leeper et al., 2016). More broadly, the American Psychological Association (2015) has provided guidelines for providing trans-affirmative care for transgender and gender nonconforming people. Trans-affirmative practice (also called gender-affirming care) is care that is respectful, aware, and supportive of the identities and life experiences of transgender and gender nonconforming people (APA, 2015). For prepubescent children, trans-affirmative care might include socially transitioning—that is, changing one’s name, pronoun, clothing, and so on to be consistent with one’s gender identity—though this would depend on the child and their family. When children reach puberty, there are additional aspects of care and development to consider. We return to this issue later in the chapter.

Trans-affirmative practice: Care that is respectful, aware, and supportive of the identities and life experiences of transgender and gender nonconforming people; also called gender-affirming care.

From Gender Identity to Gender Roles: Self-Socialization

One of Kohlberg’s arguments was that once children have a concept of gender identity, and especially a concept of gender constancy, they essentially self-socialize. That is, children want to adopt the characteristics of their gender based on their knowledge of the characteristics of the people they see in the world around them.

A more contemporary version of these ideas is the gender self-socialization model (Tobin et al., 2010). According to this model, children’s gender identity (“I am a girl”), their gender stereotypes (“Boys are good at math”), and their gender self-perceptions (“I am good at math”) all influence each other as children develop. One of the processes linking these three aspects is stereotype emulation; the more that children identify with their gender, the more they view themselves as having the qualities specified by stereotypes about their gender (“I am a girl. I want to wear dresses.”). A second process is identity construction; the more that children engage in gender-stereotyped activities, the more identified with their own gender they become (“I love playing with dolls. I am such a typical girl.”). In short, the culture provides plenty of information about acceptable behavior for girls and for boys, but children do not always have to be forced to conform. In many ways, they self-socialize.

Gender self-socialization model: A theoretical model that children’s gender identification makes them want to adopt gender-stereotyped behaviors.

Children are learning not only about gender categories and gender roles, but also about gender discrimination (C. S. Brown & Bigler, 2005). In one study, elementary school children were read scenarios about teachers’ evaluations of students; in some of the scenarios, information was included suggesting that gender discrimination was likely (for example, “Mr. Franks almost always gives boys higher grades than girls”; C. S. Brown & Bigler, 2005). Even first and second graders recognized discrimination some of the time, and older children (fourth and fifth graders) were even more likely to recognize it.

Gender Role Socialization

One of us (NEQ) took her preschool-age daughter Raeka to the pediatrician’s office. Raeka was playing with a model space shuttle that she had gotten at the air and space museum. She showed it to the nurse and said, “This is my spaceship. Blast off!” The nurse replied, “Wow, I’ve never seen a girl play with a spaceship before!” This event illustrates how the forces of gender socialization are all around children. It occurred not in the 1950s, but in 2010.

As we develop across childhood, the forces of gender role socialization become more prominent. Socialization refers to the ways in which society conveys to the individual its expectations for their behavior. Parents are a major source of gender socialization (Epstein & Ward, 2011). Parents influence their children’s development in four ways: channeling, differential treatment, direct instruction, and modeling (Blakemore et al., 2009). With channeling (also called shaping), parents create a gendered world for their child through the toys they purchase, the activities they choose (for example, ballet lessons for girls but not boys), the way they decorate their bedroom, and so on. Essentially, they channel their child in certain directions and not others. With differential treatment, parents behave differently toward sons compared with daughters. For example, in some countries a parent may give more food to a son than to a daughter when resources are scarce (United Nations, 2015). The example of Raeka and her space shuttle also is an example of differential treatment; the nurse would not have made such a comment to a boy. Direct instruction involves parents telling children how they should behave. For example, fathers may tell sons that boys don’t cry, or mothers may teach daughters how to care for babies. Finally, parents, often without knowing it, also engage in modeling behaviors for their children, who then form ideas about how women and men should behave.

Socialization: The ways in which society conveys to the individual its expectations for their behavior.

Channeling: Selection of different toys, activities, and so on for boys and girls; also called shaping.

Differential treatment: The extent to which parents and others behave differently toward boys and girls.

Direct instruction: Telling boys and girls to behave in different ways.

Modeling: Demonstrating gendered behavior for children; also refers to the child’s imitation of the behavior.

Parents talk differently with their daughters compared with their sons. Mothers talk more and use more supportive speech with daughters than with sons, perhaps creating a greater emphasis for daughters on verbal interactions and relationships (Leaper et al., 1998). And, as we saw in Chapter 6, parents talk differently about emotions with daughters and sons. Much of the gender teaching in parents’ talk is subtle and implicit rather than obvious and explicit (Gelman et al., 2004). That is, today parents don’t say that girls cannot grow up to be doctors. Instead, their talk emphasizes the categories of gender and assigns gender even to animal characters that are portrayed as gender neutral in books. In many ways, this corresponds to the subtlety of modern sexism discussed in Chapter 3.

Parents also play differently with sons compared with daughters in the preschool years. Parents engage in more pretend play with girls than with boys, and fathers in particular engage in more physical play with sons than with daughters (Lindsey & Mize, 2001; Lindsey et al., 1997). What is unclear, however, is whether parents engage in these different types of play because of their own gender-stereotyped ideas or because they are responding to the lead of the child and boys and girls initiate different kinds of play.

Not all families are the same, of course. Parents with traditional gender role attitudes have different expectations for sons compared with daughters (Pomerantz et al., 2004). Parents with liberal or egalitarian attitudes tend to treat sons and daughters similarly.

The research on gender socialization within the family has been based almost exclusively on White middle-class samples (Reid et al., 1995). Yet, as we saw in Chapter 4, there is good reason to think that gender role socialization varies across different ethnic groups in the United States. For example, gender roles are less differentiated among Black Americans, and Black children are exposed to Black women who are assertive, express anger openly, and are independent (Reid et al., 1995). The version of the woman that these children observe and model differs from the version displayed by many White, middle-class women.

As children grow older, schools, the media, and peers become increasingly important sources of gender socialization.

The schools, whether purposely or unwittingly, may transmit the information of gender role stereotypes. Research based on classroom observations in preschools and elementary schools indicates that teachers treat boys and girls differently. For example, teachers, on average, pay more attention to and interact more with boys (DeZolt & Hull, 2001; S. M. Jones & Dindia, 2004). Teachers also hold gender-stereotyped expectations for children’s behavior, expecting better academic performance from girls than from boys and more misbehavior from boys than from girls (S. Jones & Myhill, 2004). These gender-stereotyped expectations may be especially strong among teachers of African American children (Wood et al., 2007). Fortunately, when teachers are given gender-equity training to sensitize them to these issues, they respond with more equitable treatment (DeZolt & Hull, 2001).

Children also receive implicit messages from teachers about how important the categories of gender are. In one field experiment in preschool classrooms, researchers began by measuring children’s gender attitudes and preferences (Hilliard & Liben, 2010). Then, for a 2-week period, teachers either did or did not make gender salient in the classroom. Teachers in the gender salience condition did this in numerous ways, such as by saying, “Good morning, boys and girls” rather than “Good morning, children,” by lining children up separately by gender, and by having different bulletin boards for boys and girls. At the end of the 2 weeks, children were tested again. Those in the high gender salience condition showed significantly increased gender stereotypes, less positive ratings of other-gender peers, and decreased play with other-gender peers. Teachers make choices about how much they emphasize gender in the classroom, and these choices have an impact on children. Yet so many of these choices have become habitual, and it takes conscious effort to create a classroom in which gender isn’t salient.

The media are powerful socializing agents as well. Many people assume that things have changed dramatically since the 1970s and that gender stereotypes are a thing of the past. The evidence indicates that some change has occurred, yet the same stereotyped gender roles are in plentiful supply. An analysis of toy commercials shown on the Nickelodeon network showed continued stereotyping (Kahlenberg & Hein, 2010). Almost all the toys were gender specific and showed only one gender playing with them. Mixed-gender groups of children were shown in only 19% of the commercials, and everything else was gender segregated.

Photo 7.4 The media—including video games, television, and books—are a source of gender role socialization for children.



Even supposedly nonsexist children’s books, which show girls and women in some nonstereotypic roles, still portray the female characters as having feminine personality characteristics (e.g., they are affectionate, sympathetic), performing household chores, and engaging in female-stereotyped leisure activities such as shopping (Diekman & Murnen, 2004).

Video games are also a source of gender role socialization. The average eighth- or ninth-grade boy plays computer games 13 hours per week, compared with 5 hours for the average girl (Gentile et al., 2004). Video games show patterns of extreme gender stereotyping, including violence against women. Female characters are generally portrayed as submissive and often serve as rewards or prizes for the male characters. For example, in the game Duke Nukem Forever, players can play “Capture the Babe,” in which they compete to catch a woman who, dressed as a schoolgirl, utters only sexually suggestive phrases (Stermer & Burkley, 2015). Boys’ exposure to such sexist video games is substantial. There is increasing evidence that the games encourage and reinforce sexist attitudes in adults (e.g., Stermer & Burkley, 2015). How might such games affect children, whose gender role ideologies are still developing?

The stereotyping of media messages has been demonstrated to have an effect on children’s gender role attitudes and behaviors and on girls’ body dissatisfaction (L. M. Ward & Harrison, 2005). For example, in one study first and second graders were exposed to television commercials in which all boys were playing with a gender-neutral toy (traditional condition), all girls were playing with it (nontraditional condition), or the commercial was not about toys (control; Pike & Jennings, 2005). After the viewing, children were asked to sort six toys into those that were for boys, those that were for girls, or those that were for both boys and girls. Among the six toys was the toy they had seen in the commercial. Children in the traditional condition were more likely to say that the toy was for boys, whereas children in the nontraditional condition were more likely to say that it was for both boys and girls. These results show not only the power of stereotyped television images, but also that children can respond positively to nonstereotyped messages.

Despite the pressures of gender socialization, not every child conforms. Although many social critics emphasize the restrictiveness of girls’ socialization, stereotype-inconsistent behavior is in fact far less tolerated for boys than it is for girls. Many parents tolerate their daughters climbing trees and playing soccer but get upset at a son playing with dolls. It is seen as far worse to be a sissy than to be a tomboy.

Peers and the Gender Segregation Effect

The eminent developmental psychologist Eleanor Maccoby (1998), in her book The Two Sexes: Growing Up Apart, Coming Together, concluded that gendered patterns of behavior are not solely the result of socialization by forces such as parents and the media. By 3 years of age, children have a tendency to seek out and play with other children of their own gender and to avoid playing with children of the other gender. The tendency grows stronger by the time children are in elementary school. It occurs regardless of the gender socialization principles in their families, and it occurs in villages in developing nations as much as in the United States. The all-girl and all-boy groups differ in terms of their activities (Fabes et al., 2003). Boys’ play is rougher and involves more risk, confrontation, and striving for dominance. The members of all-girl groups are more likely to use conflict-reducing strategies in negotiating with each other and to engage in more self-disclosure. Girls’ groups also tend to maintain communication with adults, whereas boys separate themselves from adults, test the limits, and seek autonomy.

The gender segregation and the different play styles in these groups essentially egg each other on. Boys are attracted to boy groups in part because they adore the rough play, and girls avoid boy groups because they dislike rough play. Once in a boy group, boys are encouraged to play roughly. Boys may be attracted to rough, active play by their higher activity level, which, as we have seen, is present from infancy and may have a biological basis. Engaged in rough play, they become even more active. Girls are attracted to girl groups because they like the positive social network and the self-regulated style of play. Once they are in the group, self-regulation is encouraged.

Much of the gender segregation of childhood, then, results from forces within the child—whether biological or psychological. (An example of the latter is the child’s desire to maintain a positive gender identity by engaging in gender-typed activities.) Peer play groups rapidly create the next generation of gender-typed children (Maccoby, 2002).

Interestingly, as Maccoby noted, when children play alone, gender differences in behavior are minimal. When in their same-gender group, the gender differences are large and striking. Again we see evidence of the importance of context in shaping gender differences in behavior.

With all this gender segregation in childhood, how do men and women get back together in adulthood to form relationships, work cooperatively, and so on? The answer is that, in some cultures, they don’t. That is, in some cultures even the adult world is highly gender segregated, leaving contact between husbands and wives as the only inter-gender contact. In societies that do allow open contact between men and women, sexual attraction helps bring the sexes together. The process is not without pitfalls, though, as boys’ much-practiced dominance style meshes with girls’ conflict-reducing style. As men and women come together, whether in romantic relationships or at work, they pursue common goals and their behavior becomes more similar.

Is this gender segregation in childhood, and the male dominance it encourages, inevitable? Maccoby suggests that as long as we allow children the freedom to choose their playmates, the pattern will continue. Nonetheless, schools could take steps to ensure that children have multiple experiences of working cooperatively in mixed-gender groups in the classroom. Such practices reduce the extreme gender differentiation of childhood and should foster better mixed-gender relationships in adulthood.

The Sexualization of Girls

In 2007 the American Psychological Association released the report of its Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. Sexualization occurs when a person is valued only for sex appeal or is sexually objectified, or when sexuality is inappropriately imposed on the person. The report strikingly documented the multiple ways in which the culture sexualizes girls. In the media and in beauty contests, little girls are groomed to look like sexy adults. Products for girls contribute to sexualization, including the Bratz dolls (who wear sexy and provocative clothing and makeup) and Barbie. One experiment with 5- to 8-year-old girls, in fact, showed that just 15 minutes of exposure to Barbie images lowered girls’ body esteem compared with girls in a control condition (Dittmar et al., 2006).

Sexualization: The process of valuing a person only for their sex appeal, sexually objectifying a person, or inappropriately imposing sexuality on a person.

Sexualization also occurs when girls are treated like sexual objects by family, friends, teachers, or other adults. The most extreme examples occur with child sexual abuse, but milder examples occur in the daily lives of girls. For example, some parents convey to their daughters that being attractive to boys should be their top priority.

The sexualization of girls raises many concerns. Sexualization may cause reduced self-esteem when girls cannot meet the standards for sex appeal. Sexualization may also lead to reduced cognitive performance and even lowered career aspirations. In one study, undergraduate women and men received an objectifying gaze during an interaction with a person of another gender, who was actually a confederate of the experimenter (Gervais et al., 2011). The objectifying gaze involved looking from the participant’s head to the waist and back to the head and then, at several other times during the interaction, looking briefly at the chest. The objectifying gaze led to decrements in math performance for the women in the experiment but not for the men. No one has done such an experiment with younger girls, but surely incidents like these occur, and it is highly likely that they have similar negative effects.

The APA report suggested many ways to counteract sexualization. Within the schools, we could provide media literacy training programs so that girls can learn to analyze when they are being sexualized by the media. Girls can empower themselves by engaging in activism and resistance, such as campaigning against companies that use sexualized images to sell products.


If the behavior and development of girls and boys are similar for about the first 10 years of life, how do the gender differences in adulthood arise? In the early years, girls do better in school and have fewer adjustment problems than boys. Yet adult women, on average, have lower-status jobs than men (see Chapter 9) and have a higher incidence of depression (see Chapter 15). Although the groundwork for these differences is prepared in childhood, the real precipitating factors occur in adolescence.

Puberty for Cisgender and Transgender Youth

When we think of our adolescence, many of us remember the seemingly dramatic changes of puberty. Our bodies changed in ways we may or may not have appreciated at the time, we felt increasingly self-conscious about our appearance, and adults’ and peers’ expectations for us changed. Puberty can seem awkward, exciting, scary, and just plain bizarre to adolescents, particularly if they don’t have age-appropriate information about what to expect as they develop. For cisgender youth, feelings about puberty often depend on their gender: While boys often eagerly relish the transformations that their bodies go through, girls tend to dread the change their bodies experience. Why this difference?

For one thing, boys’ pubertal changes bring them closer to the masculine ideal of having a muscular build and greater athletic ability. The increased testosterone secreted by their testes makes it easier to build muscle mass, and muscular men are deemed more masculine. By contrast, girls’ bodies start to change in ways that actually take them further away from the contemporary feminine ideal. This feminine ideal is hyper-thin and waif-like, complete with a “thigh gap.” Yet this shape is a genetic anomaly for the vast majority of healthy women and has been criticized by many for promoting highly restricted eating and self-objectification (see Chapter 2).

The timing of puberty matters, too. For boys, early puberty tends to make them more popular because their taller and more muscular bodies make them more athletic, though the effects are not uniformly positive (Mendle & Ferrero, 2012). But for girls, early puberty is clearly detrimental to several other aspects of their development (Blumenthal et al., 2011; Ge & Natsuaki, 2009). Girls who develop breasts and feminine curves earlier than their peers tend to get harassed and sexualized. Their mature bodies make them look more like women than like girls, and this fact gets noticed by peers as well as by adults. And because these girls are socially and emotionally less mature than they look, the harassment and sexual attention can be very difficult to cope with. Still, early puberty is a risk factor for adolescent mental health, regardless of gender. Early puberty increases girls’ and boys’ risk of developing internalizing disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders (Ullsperger & Nikolas, 2017; we return to these topics in Chapter 15).

For trans kids, puberty can be especially difficult if their body is changing in ways that don’t align with their gender identity. A transgender boy who starts growing breasts may feel self-conscious and deeply distressed about the feminine body he is developing. Trans-affirmative care for adolescents may include pubertal suppression (or puberty blockers), in which the adolescent takes medication that suppresses endogenous (that is, originating from within the body) pubertal changes (Edwards-Leeper et al., 2016). Essentially, pubertal suppression can be helpful because it buys kids some extra time to explore and feel confident about their gender identity before irreversible pubertal changes (e.g., deepening voice or changes in bone structure) take effect, either through endogenous puberty or as a result of undergoing gender-affirming hormone treatment, or before initiating invasive and permanent surgeries or procedures (e.g., mastectomy, also called top surgery). Given that gender dysphoria does not persist past adolescence for a substantial proportion of gender nonconforming kids, this extra time can be precious.

Pubertal suppression: Medical suppression of endogenous pubertal changes in adolescents; also called puberty blockers.

After a few years of pubertal suppression, if gender dysphoria continues for a child, gender-affirming hormone treatment may be initiated. This would involve taking hormones that promote the development of secondary sex characteristics, such as facial hair or breasts (see Chapter 10). Health care providers often encourage kids to wait until around age 16 to begin these hormones because their effects are less reversible and may have implications for the teen’s later fertility. Still, the long-term effects of these medical treatments—both pubertal suppression and gender-affirming hormone treatment—have not been thoroughly examined among individuals who received them in childhood. We need high-quality research so that we can provide the safest and most effective care to transgender youth.

Gender Intensification

Pubertal development changes how we are perceived by others, often making our gender more salient. Adolescence researchers have argued that pressures for gender role conformity increase dramatically at the beginning of adolescence, a process known as gender intensification (Crouter et al., 1995; McHale et al., 2009). The pressure, then, is for girls to become more feminine and less masculine, beginning around 11 or 12 years of age. A recent study of youth who entered adolescence in the 21st century, however, questioned whether gender intensification is as strong as it once was (Priess et al., 2009). Girls did not increase in femininity scores from age 11 to 15, and girls actually scored as high as boys on masculinity. Pressures for gender conformity may not be as strong today as they once were, or perhaps they have simply become more subtle, like modern sexism.

Gender intensification: Increased pressures for gender role conformity, beginning in adolescence.

Identity Development

The eminent developmental theorist Erik Erikson (1950) proposed that adolescence is the stage in which the primary developmental crisis is a quest for identity. As we prepare for the autonomy of adulthood, we must explore and commit to a coherent identity to guide us. Erikson’s theory was androcentric: He focused on boys and their identity development, which has long been defined largely in terms of work. Thus, vocational identity, such as “I am a doctor,” takes center stage in this model. Adolescence becomes a time to prepare for this adult identity, as in “I must start taking science courses and become a responsible student in order to become a doctor.” The emphasis for boys, therefore, is on developing autonomy and a separate identity that is grounded in an occupation. Once that identity is achieved, they can move on to the next stage, which focuses on intimacy and marriage.

Photo 7.5 In early adolescence, gender intensification occurs and girls learn that their status will be determined by their attractiveness, not their achievements.



What happens to girls? Originally, Erikson and others said that girls were in a state of identity suspension, postponing identity formation until marriage, which in itself created identity for them. Additionally, they were thought to shape their identity to the husband’s and therefore had to remain flexible before that. In other words, a young woman can’t have an identity until she knows her husband’s identity. For much of American history, girls simply did not anticipate that work outside the home would be a major source of identity.

Researchers later began to question this cramming of female identity development into an Erikson-shaped box. They suggested, instead, that girls and women define their identities more in interpersonal terms, in a sense of self that is connected to others (Douvan & Adelson, 1966).

Research indicates that adolescent girls progress by developing both an interpersonal identity and an autonomous identity, whereas boys’ identity development focuses mainly on autonomous identity (Fivush & Zaman, 2015; Lytle et al., 1997). In short, adolescent girls balance the two sources of identity, whereas boys grow in autonomous identity considerably more than in interpersonal identity. It seems likely that girls today develop both aspects of identity because real career options are available to them that simply were not there 40 or more years ago.

Girls in late adolescence also vary considerably among themselves in what components they believe will shape their identities. A study of women at a southern U.S. university found that 22% anticipated a balanced identity with equal emphasis on career, marriage, and parenthood; 57% anticipated a family-oriented identity, with little emphasis on career and much on marriage and parenthood; 9% anticipated a career-oriented identity with less emphasis on marriage and parenthood; and 12% anticipated a career-and-marriage-oriented identity, with little emphasis on motherhood (Kerpelman & Schvaneveldt, 1999). Even today, then, the majority thought that career would not be the major definer of their identity. Yet substantial numbers held other views, in which career was a major definer. In this study, women and men did not differ in their ratings of the salience of career in defining their identity, nor did they differ in their ratings of marriage, but women anticipated, more than men, that parenthood would be salient in their identity.

Erikson’s original theory, despite its androcentrism, continues to spur psychological research (e.g., Koepke & Denissen, 2012; McLean & Syed, 2015; Merrill & Fivush, 2016). For example, there is a vast literature on ethnic identity development originating from Erikson’s work (e.g., Huang & Stormshak, 2011; Meeus, 2011). Interestingly, some of that research has found variation among youth from different ethnic groups in terms of their exploration of and commitment to a coherent sense of ethnic identity (Else-Quest & Morse, 2015). There remains much to learn about identity development in adolescence, and Eriksonian theory has provided a starting point for that work.

In sum, girls’ identity development in adolescence is more complex than Erikson theorized, with aspects of autonomy as well as deep connections to others. The elevated importance of interpersonal relationships, particularly in the context of gender intensification, means that appearance and the opinions of others can be especially powerful.

Friendship and Dating

It has been said that, in their friendships, girls and women stand “face to face” and boys and men stand “shoulder to shoulder” (Winstead & Griffin, 2001). That is, girls are face to face as they talk and self-disclose, whereas boys are shoulder to shoulder, engaged in some common activity such as a sport.

The origins of these different friendship styles certainly lie in early childhood and the gender-segregated play groups with their different play styles. By fourth or fifth grade, gender differences in same-gender friendships have appeared that resemble those found in adulthood (Winstead & Griffin, 2001). Girls are more likely than boys to talk and self-disclose. And girls’ talk is more often about personal concerns or other people, whereas boys’ talk is more likely to be about sports and leisure activities. Not wanting to overemphasize gender differences, though, we should note that girls’ and boys’ friendships are similar in qualities such as honesty, straightforwardness, mutual activities, and loyalty (Buhrmester, 1998). And friendship networks become less gender-segregated across adolescence (Poulin & Pedersen, 2007).

Adolescent dating is the stage for the enactment of heterosexual, gendered scripts (O’Sullivan et al., 2001). Girls are valued for their appearance, boys for their athleticism. Around 10 to 12 years of age, girls begin paying more attention to their hair, clothing, and makeup, in efforts to make themselves more attractive to boys.

Despite plentiful research on adolescent sexuality, there are few studies on romantic relationships in adolescence. Yet we know that these relationships touch off strong emotions including love, jealousy, anger, and anxiety (O’Sullivan et al., 2001). These relationships also serve a developmental function in the transition to adulthood. They provide a context for learning about the self, including a consideration of one’s gender identity and sexual orientation. Heterosexual dating relationships typically involve power differentials between the boy and the girl (O’Sullivan et al., 2001). Girls may be more invested in maintaining the relationship, giving boys more power. Often, too, boys assume decision-making authority. How might these early romantic relationships prepare us for adult romantic relationships?

Focus 7.1 Peer Sexual Harassment in the Schools

Although we consider sexual harassment in detail in Chapter 14, we discuss it here briefly because it is such a widespread experience during adolescence. The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (2010, p. 6) defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, which can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature,” including sexual touching, comments, jokes, or gestures, calling students sexually charged names, spreading sexual rumors, rating students on sexual activity or performance, and circulating, showing, or creating e-mails or websites of a sexual nature. Note that behaviors must be unwelcome to be considered harassment.

Peer sexual harassment is common in adolescence. In a national survey of students in seventh through twelfth grades, the American Association of University Women (AAUW; 2011) found that nearly half (48%) of the students had experienced some form of sexual harassment by peers. Rates were similar across socioeconomic and racial groups.

The AAUW (2011) report included findings of important gender differences. For example, 56% of girls said they’d been sexually harassed in the past year, compared with 40% of boys. This was the case for harassment in person and for harassment via text, e-mail, Facebook, or other electronic means. Moreover, compared with boys, girls reported being more negatively affected by this harassment. Gender differences in perpetration were also evident: 14% of girls admitted to sexually harassing a peer, compared with 18% of boys.

There were also gender similarities in the report. For example, 18% of girls and 18% of boys reported being called gay or lesbian in a negative way (AAUW, 2011). However, this particular form of harassment was reported by boys to be the most upsetting. Heterosexist phrases such as “that’s so gay” and “no homo” are commonly heard in middle schools and high schools in the United States (Kosciw et al., 2014). In short, the school climate is, for many youth, both sexist and heterosexist.

Indeed, gender nonconforming and sexual minority adolescents experience especially high rates of peer sexual harassment. The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) regularly conducts national school climate surveys of sexual minority youth, focusing on discrimination and victimization based on sexual orientation and gender expression. In its most recent survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer adolescents in Grades 6 through 12, 74% said they’d been verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation and 55% said they’d been verbally harassed because of their gender expression (Kosciw et al., 2014). Thirty-six percent of the adolescents reported experiencing physical harassment such as being pushed or shoved because of their sexual orientation, and 11% reported experiencing it because of their gender expression.

Peer sexual harassment is a threat to adolescent development and well-being. Students who experience harassment report negative effects like having trouble sleeping, not wanting to go to school and even missing school, and changing the way they go to or from school (AAUW, 2011; Kosciw et al., 2014). Peer sexual harassment is also linked to worse educational outcomes, such as lower GPA, and poorer psychological well-being, such as higher levels of depression and lower levels of self-esteem (Kosciw et al., 2014).

Across both of these studies of peer sexual harassment, the majority of incidents went unreported to the schools (AAUW, 2011; Kosciw et al., 2014). Indeed, two-thirds of public school districts in the United States reported zero incidents of such harassment during the 2013—2014 school year (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). Fifty-seven percent of students in the AAUW study said that allowing students to report harassment anonymously would be helpful. While the LGBT students in this sample were more likely than the students in the AAUW sample to report these incidents of peer sexual harassment, nearly two-thirds said that school staff did nothing in response to the incidents.

Body Dissatisfaction

Many studies have found that adolescent girls have poorer body esteem than adolescent boys (Mendelson et al., 2001; Polce-Lynch et al., 2001). This gender difference is large compared with many others we have seen, d = 0.58 (Feingold & Mazella, 1998). Body esteem or body image has many components, of course, including feelings about one’s weight, face, hair, and shape. Beginning in late elementary school, girls are more dissatisfied with their weight than boys are (Smolak & Striegel-Moore, 2001). One longitudinal study found that nearly one-third of girls reported dieting by age 11; more than three-quarters reported dieting by age 15 (Balantekin et al., 2014).

The emphasis on thinness is so strong, and the dissatisfaction with weight so great among American girls and women, that it has been termed a normative discontent. Three decades after this term was coined, meta-analysis indicates that women’s body dissatisfaction has lessened somewhat (Karazsia et al., 2017). Yet many women of diverse ethnic groups continue to feel they don’t meet the feminine beauty standard, which idealizes a thin, light-skinned body and straight hair. Body dissatisfaction remains a serious and pervasive problem.

It’s also dangerous. Dissatisfaction with weight and shape can lead adolescent girls to a number of unhealthy and potentially dangerous behaviors such as dieting and cosmetic surgery, including liposuction and breast enlargement (Smolak & Striegel-Moore, 2001). Girls’ weight worries are no small thing—they can actually become life-threatening.

There is little doubt that girls’ dissatisfaction with their bodies is powerfully shaped by the media and their displays of hyper-thin models (Grabe et al., 2008). Experimental research shows that as little media exposure as viewing 10 slides from women’s magazines such as Glamour increases weight concerns (Posavac et al., 1998; see also Lavine et al., 1999). This effect holds true only for women with more initial body dissatisfaction, though.

At the intersection of gender and ethnicity, we see diversity in women’s experiences. In regard to ethnicity, White, Latina, and Asian American women generally express more weight concern compared with Black women, who express less (Grabe & Hyde, 2006). Consistent with this finding, Black adolescent girls are more likely to be proud of their bodies (60%) than White (38%), Hispanic (45%), and Asian American (50%) girls (Story et al., 1995). And viewing Black-oriented television is associated with a healthier body image for Black female adolescents (Schooler et al., 2004).

There is very little empirical research on body image among trans and nonbinary women. Yet these women experience pressure to adhere to the feminine beauty standard much as cisgender women do, in addition to experiencing cisgenderist harassment and discrimination (Hendricks & Testa, 2012). For some trans women, adhering to the feminine beauty standard may be critical to being perceived and treated as women (Sevelius, 2013). One qualitative study with an ethnically diverse sample of transgender women found that three-quarters of the women had engaged in disordered eating behaviors in efforts to control their body shape (Gordon et al., 2016).

A social process that helps keep body dissatisfaction alive is fat talk between girls (Salk & Engeln-Maddox, 2011). One girl says she is fat. Her friend tells her that she isn’t, but that she herself is, and the conversation cycles round and round. Fat talk both reflects and encourages body dissatisfaction. Meta-analysis of fat talk and body image suggests that fat talk is actually a risk factor for body dissatisfaction (Mills & Fuller-Tyszkiewicz, 2017).

Emerging Adulthood

A new phenomenon has appeared in the United States and other Western nations: emerging adulthood (Arnett, 2004). This developmental period spans the late teens through the early 20s. In earlier decades, people felt that they were adults either when they graduated from high school (if they weren’t going to college) or when they graduated from college. Today, neither of these ages seems to be true adulthood for many people. Instead, there is a kind of suspended state of not being a teenager anymore and not yet being an adult that extends through the early 20s. Marriage is delayed until the mid- to late 20s, and the emerging adult years are spent in self-focused exploration of career or work and intimate relationships. Financial independence from one’s family is occurring at later ages as well. Interestingly, this pattern is typical of both young men and young women. As one 24-year-old woman said, “I mean, this is cool for now. I’m just going to hop around for a while” (quoted in Arnett, 2004, p. 29).


Gender and Work

The work role is increasingly important for adults, and there are unique challenges for women and trans individuals in the workplace. For that reason, we have devoted an entire chapter to the topic of gender and work (Chapter 9) and will postpone discussion of that topic until then.

Romantic Relationships and Marriage

Marriage has undergone dramatic transformation over the past 50 years. For example, people marry at considerably older ages now than in the past. In 1960, the average age of first marriage for women was 20.3 years, whereas today it is 27.4 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016d). For men, the average age of first marriage is now 29.5, up from 22.8 in 1960. Another major historical change in marriage in the United States is that two consenting adults can marry each other, regardless of their genders. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that the right to marry is guaranteed to same-gender couples. Of course, not all couples choose to marry. Cohabitation is much more common today than it was a generation ago. Today, 7.2% of couples in the United States cohabit, up from 0.4% in 1967 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016d).

Is marriage good or bad for women? That turns out to be a more complex question than it seems. In 1972, the eminent sociologist Jessie Bernard published a book in which she coined the phrase his and hers marriage, meaning that heterosexual marriage has different consequences for husbands and wives. She concluded that marriage was definitely good for men. The evidence came from comparisons of married men and never-married men on mental health and physical health outcomes. The married men consistently scored better. Married women scored worse than married men, yet never-married women scored better than never-married men. She concluded that marriage benefits men but hurts women. This idea became popularized with the general public and persists today. Yet much has changed. For example, when Bernard conducted her research, the majority of married women were home full time, but today the majority of married women are employed. Do modern data support Bernard’s idea?

Although many studies show that heterosexual marriage provides health benefits to both husbands and wives, the benefits are not equal. For example, one large study of adults in Britain found that marriage was positively associated with a variety of health indicators in middle age, but that this effect was greater for men than for women (Ploubidis et al., 2015). In addition, the data indicated that the health of women and men who cohabited was similar to that of married couples. In sum, marriage benefits both women and men, although it benefits men more.

Photo 7.6 Will this marriage last? Statistics indicate that 40% to 50% of today’s heterosexual marriages will end in divorce. One implication is that women need to acquire the education and skills necessary to support themselves.



Most research on marriage has focused on heterosexual marriage. Before Obergefell v. Hodges, some states had laws permitting same-gender marriage, whereas others had constitutional amendments outlawing it. Research comparing the well-being of same-gender couples living in states with or without legal same-gender marriage sheds light on the impact of marriage equality policies. For example, one study with a nationally representative sample found that same-gender couples living in states with marriage equality had better health than same-gender couples living in states without it (Kail et al., 2015). In the coming years, new data will help us understand more about the psychological aspects of marriage for same-gender couples.

Not all marriages are alike, though. Some are happy, characterized by mutual support, good communication, equality, and respect. Others are miserable, with the partners having little in common, intentionally degrading each other, and perhaps committing abuse. Research consistently shows that the quality of marriage is far more important to people’s mental and physical health than simply whether one is married (Barnett & Hyde, 2001; Gallo et al., 2003; Steil, 2001b). Equality between husband and wife in decision making is an important aspect of the quality of heterosexual marriage (Steil, 2001a). Good marriage is good for women. Bad marriage isn’t.


Another historical shift regarding marriage is divorce rates. The divorce rate in the United States increased by 136% between 1960 and 1996, and then dropped steadily through 2006 (Amato, 2010). Among marriages today, approximately 40% to 50% will eventually end in divorce, with somewhat higher rates for Whites and African Americans and lower rates for Latinx and Asian Americans (Kreider & Ellis, 2011). It is also true that remarriage rates are high; 70% to 75% of divorced women remarry (Amato, 2000). Longitudinal research indicates that couples divorce because of a variety of factors, including intimate partner violence, conflict, infidelity, and a lack of commitment to marriage (Amato, 2010).

Is divorce harmful to one’s psychological or physical well-being? Most research indicates that divorced individuals have poorer psychological and physical well-being compared with married individuals (Amato, 2010). Yet two important factors can contribute to these effects. One factor that influences the psychological outcomes of divorce is one’s history of depression; that is, divorce can be a significant stressor for people who are already at higher risk for developing depression (Sbarra et al., 2014). If you have a history of depression, getting divorced might trigger a depressive episode.

Another important factor influencing outcomes following divorce is marital quality. That is, if the marriage is stressful and difficult, maybe even abusive, it might actually be beneficial to end it. This is particularly true for women. One study with a nationally representative sample of adults in the United States found that the psychological effects of divorce depend on both marital quality and gender (Bourassa et al., 2015). For women, ending a poorer quality marriage resulted in a greater increase in life satisfaction than ending a higher quality marriage. For men, there was no association between marital quality and life satisfaction after divorce.

The economic consequences of divorce are also important to consider. A study of women and divorce by sociologist Lenore Weitzman (1986) attracted a great deal of attention. She found that divorced women and their children are becoming the new underclass: Whereas divorced men experience a 42% increase in their standard of living, divorced women experience a 73% decrease. These are the unintended consequences of no-fault divorce, which in the 1970s was thought to be positive for women. The problem is that divorce settlements often make the liberated assumption that women will go out and become self-sufficient earners, ignoring the great disparity between women’s wages and men’s wages in the United States (see Chapter 9). In short, no-fault divorce has been an economic disaster for those women who do not have professional training, job skills, or strong work experience. We don’t mean to suggest, of course, that no-fault divorce is all bad for women. For example, it makes it easier for a woman to get out of a marriage in which she is abused. Weitzman’s statistics have also been criticized for exaggerating divorced women’s economic decline (Faludi, 1991; Peterson, 1996). A decline of 35%—not 73%—is probably more accurate (Amato, 2000). Nonetheless, a 35% decline in standard of living is still a dramatic loss.

Divorced women also may experience role strains and role overload. They may have to manage a household by themselves, including doing tasks such as repairs that the husband may have done previously. Divorced women with children may feel that their social life has become extremely limited and that they are socially isolated from other adults. Social support from family and friends is extremely important during the divorce transition.

Black women tend to fare less well than White women following divorce (McKenry & McKelvey, 2003). Compared with their White counterparts, divorced Black women are less likely to receive child support and more likely to live in poverty.

Single Women

Today, 28.6% of American women are single, never married (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013). By ethnicity, the never married comprise 23.4% of White women, 46.3% of Black women, 26.4% of Asian American women, and 35.4% of Latinas. These statistics are up from 1960, a result of trends toward not marrying and toward marrying later.

Two advantages are typically mentioned in discussions of being a single woman. One is freedom. There is no necessity to agree with someone else on what to have for dinner, what TV program to watch, or how to spend money. There is the freedom to move when doing so is advantageous to one’s career—or to stay put and not to move to follow a husband’s career. The other advantage is a sense of self-sufficiency and competence. The single woman has to deal with the irritation of fixing the leaky faucet herself, but having done so, she gains a sense that she is competent to do such things.

Women who are satisfied by long-term single status tend to have (a) satisfying employment that provides economic independence, (b) connections to the next generation through extended family or by mentoring younger people, and (c) a strong network of family and friends who provide support when it is needed (Trimberger, 2005).


Just as women are delaying marriage today, they are also delaying childbearing. Whereas in the 1960s the average age of first giving birth was 21, today it is 26 (Costello et al., 2003; Hamilton et al., 2015). This varies somewhat by ethnicity; the average age of first birth is 24.3 for Hispanic women, 24.2 for Black women, 27.0 for White women, 23.1 for American Indian women, and 29.5 for Asian American women (Hamilton et al., 2015). In this section we discuss the experience of motherhood, but we save our discussion of pregnancy and childbirth for Chapter 11.

Research shows that although marriage and employment are both generally associated with positive adjustment for women, parenthood is generally associated with mixed emotions. Having children can increase parents’ experiences of positive emotions and finding meaning in life, but it can also increase their experiences of negative emotions and magnify or exacerbate financial problems or relationship problems (Nelson et al., 2014). One meta-analysis found that parents have lower marital satisfaction than nonparents, but the effect is small (d = —0.19; Twenge et al., 2003). Following the birth of a child, married women tend to experience a decline in marital satisfaction (Shapiro et al., 2015). The transition to motherhood can be very difficult and stressful. It requires that a woman rapidly acquire new skills, develop a new interpersonal relationship, and integrate a new role into her identity, all while experiencing considerable disruptions in her sleep patterns.

Motherhood is so basic an assumption of the female role that it is easy to forget that society pressures women to be mothers; indeed, the pressure is so strong that the situation has been called the motherhood mandate (Meyers, 2001). And, in fact, 84% of American women have at least one child by age 50 (Monte & Ellis, 2014).

Motherhood mandate: A cultural belief that women must become mothers.

Psychology has a history of mother blaming—that is, of holding mothers responsible for everything from schizophrenia to eating disorders (Caplan, 2001). Psychologists have been slow to ask what role fathers might play in their offspring’s problems or about the role of peers and other social forces. In particular, much research attention has been devoted to the potential harm that children experience when mothers work outside the home, but scant attention has been paid to the negative impact that fathers’ employment might have. We return to this topic in Chapter 9.

Today, women are expected to be not only mothers, but exceptional mothers—a norm called intensive mothering (Arendell, 2000). Mothering should be emotionally involving, time-consuming, and completely child-centered, according to this norm. These ideals are impossible for real women to achieve, leaving them feeling that they’re not doing a very good job (Douglas & Michaels, 2004).

The so-called mother wars make matters worse (Johnston & Swanson, 2004). The mother wars, created by the media, pit working mothers against stay-at-home mothers. The polarizing rhetoric portrays stay-at-home mothers as dimwits on Prozac running organic vegetables through the blender to feed the baby. Employed mothers are characterized as being stressed beyond human endurance and spending almost no time with their children, leaving them in dangerous day care. Neither of these images is accurate, but they contribute to a rift between the two groups of mothers, leaving neither one feeling good.

Despite all of this, most women gain satisfaction from motherhood. The degree of satisfaction depends on a number of factors; women report more satisfaction with motherhood when they are in a happy marriage and when they have strong social support (Thompson & Walker, 2004).

Of course, not all women accept the motherhood mandate. The birthrate in the United States has declined in recent decades (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015), much as it has in other countries such as Germany and Japan (CBS/AP, 2014). More and more women are choosing to be child-free, or opting for voluntary childlessness. Terminology makes a difference here. Some reject the term childless, which may seem to imply some sort of deficit, in favor of child-free.

While the evidence indicates that women who are voluntarily childless do not feel guilty, regretful, or distressed by their choice (DeLyser, 2012; McQuillan et al., 2012), they remain a highly stigmatized group. Child-free women are perceived as less warm and less psychologically fulfilled than women with children (Ashburn-Nardo, 2017; Bays, 2016). They may also be viewed as selfish or deviant (Mollen, 2006). Why are child-free women perceived so harshly? There is a great deal of social pressure for women to have children, which probably has to do with the fact that motherhood is so central to the female gender role (McQuillan et al., 2012).

Still, many women are involuntarily childless. About 6% of married women experience infertility, or an inability to become pregnant despite having carefully timed, unprotected sex for one year; about 12% of American women experience impaired fecundity, or difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy full-term (National Center for Health Statistics, 2016). Infertility and impaired fecundity can be very distressing to those who wish to become pregnant and have a child. The motherhood mandate can compound this distress because it contributes to a woman’s sense that she has failed as a woman if she cannot have children (Ceballo et al., 2015). Some women may pursue assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs), such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), in order to become pregnant. ARTs like IVF are very expensive and may not be covered by one’s health insurance. The financial strain and low success rate of ARTs adds to the distress experienced by women experiencing infertility.

Infertility: Not getting pregnant despite having carefully timed, unprotected sex for one year.

Photo 7.7 Intersectional analysis of fertility issues indicates that White women’s childbearing is more highly valued and promoted than the childbearing of women of color.



An intersectional analysis of infertility uncovers an unsettling pattern of inequity sometimes referred to as stratified reproduction (Ceballo et al., 2015; Greil et al., 2011). Essentially, White women’s childbearing is more highly valued and promoted than the childbearing of women of color. Women of color and poor women are more likely to experience infertility. To make matters worse, these women are less likely to have access to the fertility treatments that White women and wealthier women have. Economic constraints, lack of health insurance, and discrimination from medical professionals all contribute to this disparity in access. In addition, the majority of research on fertility treatments has relied on wealthy White women as participants. Meanwhile, racist stereotypes of Black mothers as lazy “welfare queens” who are inadequate and selfish persist. The motherhood mandate, it seems, applies only to wealthy White women.

Stratified reproduction: A systematic pattern of inequity in which women of color are overrepresented among women with infertility but are underrepresented among those who receive treatment for infertility.

Queer and trans people who wish to become pregnant face additional challenges with regard to their fertility (dickey, Ducheny, et al., 2016; Hayman et al., 2015; Jones et al., 2016). While there are more options available to these folks today than ever before, several obstacles may stand in their way. For example, to become pregnant, some couples may opt for ARTs with donated sperm. This is more challenging than it might seem. First, for many queer and trans people, some ARTs are financially out of reach. Second, finding a sperm donor can be complicated—should the donor be someone who is known to the couple, or should they be anonymous? Third, for trans people in particular, fertility is shaped in part by their history of gender-affirming care (namely, whether they’ve had particular hormone treatments or surgical procedures). Some trans women may still produce sperm and some trans men may still ovulate, but other trans people will not be able to biologically parent a child because they have undergone treatments that have made them infertile. In the face of infertility, some couples may wish to adopt a child, but discrimination against queer and trans people adopting children remains a barrier for many. Despite these challenges, many queer and trans people become parents of a biological, step, or adopted child at some point in their lives. Research indicates that 48% of LGBT women and 20% of LGBT men in the United States have at least one child under age 18 (Gates, 2013).

An Empty Nest

During middle adulthood, children may leave home—to go to work, to go away to college, to get married. This phase of the family life cycle is known as the empty nest, or the postparental period. Traditional stereotypes held that, because motherhood is a major source of identity, the empty nest promotes depression in middle-aged women. Yet research shows this not to be true. Indeed, many women find rewards during the empty nest phase.

Empty nest: The phase of the family life cycle following the departure of adult children from the family home; also known as the postparental period.

For example, a study of 60- to 65-year-old women found that 70% described their lives currently as better than when they were younger (Burns & Leonard, 2005). In some cases, the gains they reported were due to the women’s own actions. In other cases, women reported that changes in roles or simply the passage of time provided stress relief. And one woman in a comparison group of 40- to 50-year-olds said,

I’ve just thought that all my life I’ve worried about the girls leaving home and growing up. I love my girls so much I thought I can’t deal with them growing up. And then a couple of years ago, it was almost as if God tossed them out of the nest or something. Because I’m getting to the stage where I want them to leave so that my husband and I can just have our own life. I never thought I could feel like that! (Burns & Leonard, 2005, p. 275)

Of the remaining women who felt differently about this phase of life, 20% reported continued, consistent contentment and only 10% characterized their lives as dominated by losses.

What should we conclude, then? A review of the research on the empty nest revealed several patterns in the data (Bouchard, 2014). First, most couples experience an increase in marital quality during the empty nest, especially for women. There is also some evidence of an increase in marital equity reported by women, presumably because child-related responsibilities have been lessened. Second, some women experience loneliness or a sense of loss, but most experience an increase in well-being.

Later Adulthood

Ageism, or negative attitudes toward older adults, is a pervasive problem (Levy & Macdonald, 2016). Ageist stereotypes describe older adults as forgetful, incompetent, and depressed, living only in the past. Yet research on aging indicates that older adulthood is not nearly as pathetic as ageism suggests.

Ageism: Negative attitudes toward older adults.

And yet, an intersectional perspective on aging indicates unique challenges for older women. In particular, there is a double standard of aging (Calasanti, 2005; Chonody & Teater, 2016). That is, as a man reaches middle age and beyond, he may appear more distinguished and handsome, but a woman of the same age is considered less beautiful or even invisible. As we saw in a previous section, a woman’s value in her youth is often judged by her appearance; as women age, their appearance tends to change in ways that move them further away from mainstream standards of beauty. The media helps to perpetuate this double standard. Older women are underrepresented as television characters, and when they do appear, they are portrayed negatively or stereotypically, as victims, dependent, or poor (Kjaersgaard, 2005). Here we will examine some of the research on older women.

Double standard of aging: Cultural norms by which men’s status increases with age but women’s decreases.


The stereotype of a grandmother is of a white-haired lady baking cookies for the little ones. Of course, grandmothers are a much more diverse group. Women can become grandmothers at vastly different ages. One woman becomes a grandmother at age 35, and another does so at age 65. Some are retired, but many may still be employed.

Grandmothers often play an important role in the lives of their grandchildren (Barnett et al., 2010). For example, they often provide emotional and financial support, as well as information, to parents and grandchildren. When grandmothers are more involved in the lives of their grandchildren, it can enhance the children’s adjustment and protect them from risk factors for poor adjustment (Barnett et al., 2010).

The grandmother role is likely to vary for different ethnic groups as a result of different family structures and cultural traditions. African American grandmothers, for example, are disproportionately likely to raise their own grandchildren in the absence of the mother or father (Conway et al., 2011; Kelch-Oliver, 2011). This situation can create emotional and physical strain as well as rewards for the grandmother.

One study of Chinese American immigrant grandmothers found that traditional Chinese values of filial piety and respect for elders shaped the grandmother experience (Nagata et al., 2010). Grandmothers had frequent contact with their grandchildren, and the contact was hierarchically structured, with the grandmother having an authoritative, respected role. The grandmothers’ goals for their grandchildren emphasized moral character, good manners, and achievement.

Photo 7.8 Cultural values of filial piety and respect for elders shape grandmotherhood.



There is even a grandmother effect, a term coined by evolutionary theorists (Herndon, 2010). Compared with other species, female humans experience far more years of vigorous life after ovulation ceases and they can no longer reproduce. Why is this adaptive, in an evolutionary sense? According to the grandmother effect, older women who are healthy and active enhance their own fitness by providing care for their grandchildren, who carry their genes, thereby enhancing the survival of those offspring. According to this hypothesis, natural selection occurred among early humans, favoring women who lived longer, were vigorous, and helped to care for their grandchildren.

Gender and Cognitive Aging

A lifespan perspective reminds us that there are gains as well as losses in development. In older adulthood, it is common to experience some changes in our cognitive functioning. While some cognitive changes may be signs of disease or dementia, other changes are normal parts of aging that result from a general slowdown or reduced efficiency in our brain processes. For example, older adults tend to experience declines in some aspects of executive functioning, such as mental flexibility (Phillips & Henry, 2008) and inhibitory control (von Hippel & Dunlop, 2005). However, our long-term memory remains generally well intact, and we can continue acquiring new knowledge and skills throughout our lives. An important question to pose in the psychology of women and gender, then, is whether there are gender differences or similarities in cognitive aging.

As we discuss in Chapter 8, a handful of cognitive abilities show some mean gender differences, and these differences vary in magnitude. Researchers have also explored whether women and men experience similar cognitive changes as they age. That is, researchers were interested in the cognitive trajectories of older adults, or how their cognitive abilities changed over time. One review found that, across 13 longitudinal studies, men and women tended to show similar rates of cognitive changes over time, with similar cognitive trajectories between 60 and 80 years of age (Ferreira et al., 2014). However, those studies had inconsistent findings and varied in quality, which makes our conclusions tentative.

A recent long-term longitudinal study of aging examined changes in multiple cognitive abilities among a sample of adults who showed no signs of cognitive impairment or dementia (McCarrey et al., 2016). In general, they found that participants’ cognitive abilities declined with age, as expected. With regard to gender, a few patterns in their results are noteworthy. First, women tended to outperform men on most, but not all, of the abilities. For example, women scored higher on tests of reasoning, verbal learning, verbal memory, fluent language production, and episodic memory. They also found that, although men outperformed women in visual memory and visuospatial abilities, men also showed steeper decline in those abilities over time. That is, men’s mean levels were higher but they declined at a faster rate. By contrast, there was no cognitive ability in which women showed steeper decline than men did.

The authors concluded that women may be less vulnerable to age-related changes in brain functioning and cognition. Yet they also cautioned that the gender differences were subtle. Considered alongside the previous mixed findings about gender differences in cognitive aging, it seems that women may experience slower rates of cognitive aging but that the effects may not be large enough to be detected consistently.

Widowhood and Gender Ratios

Gender ratios become more and more lopsided with advancing age. Among Americans between the ages of 60 and 69, there are 110 women for every 100 men. By 80 to 89 there are 162 women for every 100 men, and for those 90 and older, there are 259 women for every 100 men (Howden & Meyer, 2011). As a result, older women stand a good chance of living alone. Among women 65 and older, 32% live alone (Stepler, 2016).

What drives these lopsided gender ratios? One factor is widowhood. Women are far more likely to be widowed than men are (Elliott & Simmons, 2011). This is the result of two trends: the longer life expectancy of women and the tendency of women to marry men older than themselves. Opportunities for remarriage are limited because there are so few men compared with women in the “appropriate” age-group. Therefore it is fairly common for women to face the last 15 years or so of their lives alone. The evidence indicates that recently widowed individuals have higher levels of depressive symptoms compared with married individuals but that these levels decrease after 2 to 3 years (Monserud & Markides, 2017).

A number of factors affect how women respond following the death of a spouse, including whether the death was anticipated or unexpected and her financial and social resources (Antonucci et al., 2010). Widows who had been caring for an ill spouse for a long time may be grateful that their spouse is no longer suffering and that they are relieved from exhausting caregiving responsibilities. The consequences of widowhood for a woman’s depressive symptoms can depend on her spouse’s health status before death as well as the woman’s age and how long she’s been widowed (Sasson & Umberson, 2014). In addition, widows may draw on their faith and religious practices for comfort and support during the transition to widowhood. A longitudinal study with Mexican American older adults found that more frequent church attendance slowed the development of depressive symptoms when a spouse died (Monserud & Markides, 2017).

Financial strain for widows can be severe (Hungerford, 2001). There is loss of the spouse’s income, and the couple’s savings may have been depleted by medical expenses associated with the spouse’s illness. Older women are more likely than older men to live in poverty, and older minority women are even more likely to be poor than White women.

The death of a spouse seems to be harder on men than it is on women, whether measured by depression, illness, or death (Shor et al., 2012; Stroebe et al., 2001). Put another way, women tend to cope better with widowhood. One possible reason for this is that women are more likely to have deep friendships that they have developed over the years and from which they can draw social support. Another possibility is that women are better than men at “grief work”—that is, at expressing their emotions and then going on to cope and readjust (Stroebe, 2001).

Experience the Research: Older Women

For this exercise, interview an older woman, over the age of 65. You might choose a female relative, a woman from your place of worship, or a family friend. Record her age, marital status, and ethnic group. Ask her the following questions, and either audiotape or take notes on her answers:

1. What does she feel were the three major events in her life? Why?

2. Did she spend most of her life as a homemaker or having a job or career? Reflecting back on that role, what were the good things about it? What were the negative things?

3. If she is single, is she lonely? Why or why not?

Chapter Summary

This chapter has traced aspects of development across the lifespan, focusing especially on girls, women, and transgender persons. Most infant behaviors do not show gender differences. While boys are more active, girls regulate their impulses and attention better; these differences may contribute to challenges at the transition to kindergarten. Parents generally treat boy and girl babies similarly, although mothers appear to touch their infants in subtly different ways, which may promote gender differences in motor activity and play behaviors, such as girls’ preference for play-grooming and boys’ preference for rough-and-tumble play.

Infants begin processing information by gender early on, categorizing male and female faces, bodies, and voices. Yet evidence also suggests that we learn to categorize gender as a binary system.

Gender differences in toy and game preferences emerge in the preschool years. By age 3, children’s play is highly gender segregated. Appearance rigidity also becomes more common during the preschool years. The cognitive process of gender constancy development may play a role in these behaviors.

For transgender children during the process of gender constancy development, their gender identity does not match their gender assigned at birth, known as gender dysphoria. Transgender children have long been met with skepticism, perceived as being confused, delayed, oppositional, or pretending. Yet scientific research indicates that such children’s gender identity is authentic and deeply felt. Trans-affirmative practice provides guidance for sensitive, respectful, and individualized care of transgender children.

Parents continue to socialize gender-appropriate behavior, and the media and peers gain influence during childhood. Parents exert their influence through channeling, differential treatment, direct instruction, and modeling. In addition, children self-socialize. Gender segregation of peer groups also contributes to gender socialization.

Girls are also sexualized from an early age. In late adolescence, girls move toward an adult identity, balancing an autonomous identity with an interpersonal identity.

Puberty offers dramatic changes for cisgender and transgender kids. While cisgender boys may look forward to puberty, cisgender girls are often less positive; girls’ negative feelings often have to do with the contrast between cultural ideals and actual body shapes and sizes. Timing of puberty also matters. For transgender adolescents, pubertal suppression may be included as a part of trans-affirmative practice, as it gives those kids more time to decide before long-term or permanent physical changes occur. Pubertal changes in adolescence may contribute to gender intensification.

Peer harassment based on gender and gender expression is widespread during adolescence. This form of victimization is especially common for gender nonconforming and sexual minority youth. Peer sexual harassment is linked to poorer educational and psychological outcomes. Negative body esteem and weight worries become issues for girls in adolescence, and fat talk may contribute to body dissatisfaction.

In adulthood, marriage and romantic relationships are important. Most research on marriage has focused on heterosexual marriage; in the coming years, new data will help us understand more about the psychological aspects of marriage for same-gender couples. Marriage—at least good marriage—benefits women’s mental and physical health. Likewise, divorce can offer benefits to a woman if her marriage is very poor in quality.

Motherhood is a valued role for most adult women. Voluntary childlessness remains stigmatized. Research on the empty nest and depression in middle age indicates that, in fact, most women fare well during this time, and some researchers believe that the early 50s are the prime of life for women.

In older adulthood, the grandmother role is an important and meaningful one for many women. Development in older adulthood includes cognitive aging. Women may be less vulnerable than men to cognitive aging, but these gender differences are subtle. Men on average die younger than women do, resulting in lopsided gender ratios in the population. The gender ratio becomes more lopsided with each passing decade, as widowhood becomes increasingly common. While losing a spouse is among the most distressing and difficult events in a person’s life, widows psychologically rebound from this loss within a few years. Social support, faith, financial stress, and the circumstances around the spouse’s death all contribute to the psychological outcomes of widowhood.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Brown, Christia Spears. (2014). Parenting beyond pink and blue: How to raise your kids free of gender stereotypes. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press. A developmental psychologist, Brown provides a parenting guide for those who want gender stereotypes to take a backseat in their children’s lives.

Levin, Diane, & Kilbourne, Jean. (2008). So sexy so soon: The new sexualized childhood and what parents can do to protect their kids. New York, NY: Ballantine. Drawing on the APA Task Force report on the sexualization of girls, Levin and Kilbourne offer guidance to parents and schools on promoting healthy development in kids.

McLean, Kate C., & Syed, Moin. (Eds.). (2015). Oxford handbook of identity development. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. This handbook thoroughly reviews the psychological research on the many aspects of identity development.

Orenstein, Peggy. (2011). Cinderella ate my daughter: Dispatches from the front lines of the new girlie-girl culture. New York, NY: HarperCollins. Journalist Orenstein exposes the cultural forces—from Disney princesses to beauty pageants—that are making little girls into girlie-girls.