Concluding Remarks

The purpose of this chapter was to provide a contemporary review of the literature that explores the effects of gender stereotypes on children's preferences and behavior. This began with a description of the major theoretical perspectives that guide the research in this area. While the theories continue to vary in terms of the degree to which they emphasize different factors, there has been an increasing emphasis on integration in recent years. In fact, our own research is heavily grounded in cognitive theories of gender development. Although we emphasize the important role of gender knowledge, we clearly recognize that biological and social factors are also important determinants in children's sex-typed behaviors. Given that we do not expect there to be a one-to-one relationship between gender knowledge and sex-typed behavior, we also believe that it is necessary to explore the factors that moderate this relationship. Like prior reviews (e.g., Aubry et al., 1999; Martin et al., 2002; Ruble & Martin, 1998), we highlighted these points throughout the chapter in an effort to clarify ongoing confusions regarding this issue.

In addition to presenting the research on children's preferences, we expanded the literature that was presented in Aubry et al. (1999) to include other content areas such as exploration and performance. This allowed us to provide a more complete analysis of the proposed influence of gender stereotypes on children's behavior. Even though the methodological and conceptual limitations involved in this research prevent us from drawing firm conclusions, the findings from these studies suggest that children are affected by their knowledge of gender stereotypes. Moreover, the new data presented in this chapter raised the possibility that stereotype rigidity may moderate the relationship between knowledge and preferences. Thus, children may be more likely to be affected by stereotypes when they are first learning and rigidly applying this knowledge. In addition, we raised the possibility that there are other developmental considerations such as the type of label that will determine when and how children will be influenced by gender stereotypes. For now, these predictions represent gaps in the literature that are waiting to be filled by future research.

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