Family predictors of girls' sex-typed activities


Free time activities of children and adolescents are important because they provide a forum for learning new skills and set the stage for identity development. To better understand girls' choices of how to spend their time, we tracked 290 white, working- and middle-class girls who ranged in age from 8 to 15 at the beginning of our study.

We studied the time they spent in stereotypically masculine (sports, model building, hunting and fishing) and feminine (art, music, dance) activities over a two-year period, exploring any characteristics of the girls and their parents that predicted the girls' involvement in sex-typed activities.

Specifically, we measured girls' and parents' gender role attitudes, sex-typed personality qualities and sex-typed free time interests during annual home interviews. We also collected saliva samples to measure the girls' levels of testosterone, a male hormone that typically increases from middle childhood though adolescence in both girls and boys. To learn more about girls' activities, in each year of the study we called the girls on seven evenings and asked about their activities during that day. We found that:

  • Girls' time in masculine activities increased in early adolescence until about age 13, then declined through age 17.
  • Girls' time in feminine activities was highest at age 9, then declined in early and middle adolescence.
  • Girls' and parents' feminine personality qualities (e.g., sensitivity, kindness) and (to a lesser extent) interest in feminine activities predicted the amount of time they spent in feminine activities, and girls' and parents' masculine personality qualities (e.g., competitiveness, leadership) and interest in masculine activities predicted the amount of time girls spent in masculine activities.

However, neither girls' nor their parents' attitudes about appropriate roles for women and men predicted the girls' involvement in any activities. We also found that, in middle childhood, girls with lower levels of testosterone spent more time in feminine activities, especially when they reported an interest in those activities. In contrast, girls with higher levels of testosterone in middle childhood spent less time in feminine activities regardless of their interest in those activities. Testosterone was unrelated to girls' activities in early and middle adolescence.

In other research, time spent in constructive free time activities like those we studied has been linked to positive adjustment. The findings of our study are consistent with the idea that characteristics of parents and girls themselves help determine whether girls stay involved in activities like sports, music, and dance in the face of "normative" declines in youth involvement in such activities. Prior research also shows that involvement in sex-typed activities is associated with the development of sex-typed interest and skills. Thus, spending time in stereotypically masculine or feminine activities may have important implications down the road as girls begin to make decisions about education, career, and family.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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