For schoolchildren, gender plays an extremely important role in the formation of their own friendships and in the perception of other students’ friendships, according to a new study which took place in five U.S. elementary schools.
The study, which involved 426 second- through fourth-graders, found that gender was an overwhelming factor — children were nine times more likely to be friends if they were the same gender.
Even more so, when asked about their friends’ friends, a child was 50 times more likely to believe two classmates were friends if they were the same gender.
Researcher Jennifer Watling Neal, Ph.D., and her colleagues found that boys and girls had no problem being friends with one another, but they carried a perception that only boys played with boys and girls played with girls.
The gender differences appear to be a clear differentiating point for these students. Does this mean that the cause is evolutionary psychology, social psychology or sociology?
“Kids believe gender plays a larger role in friendship than it actually does,” said Neal, assistant professor of psychology. These strong gender views may have implications when the students grow up.
“In adulthood,” Neal said, “we know that people who have accurate perceptions of workplace relationships tend to be perceived as more powerful and have better reputations than their colleagues.”
For example, the ratio of women to men in psychology is over 70 percent, so young men might see that and feel gender threat or stereotype bias and avoid the field due to its lack of male peers.
Children who have a more accurate perception of the social relationships around them may be better able to handle conflict and have more positive interactions with their peers, Neal said.
“Thus, while gender does matter a great deal in the formation of children’s friendships, children think it is nearly the only relevant factor,” Neal said.
The findings are published in the journal Child Development.
Source: Michigan State University