New Longitudinal Data

The question of when gender knowledge affects children's preferences was partly addressed in a recent longitudinal study of 5- to 10-year-old children. Trautner, Ruble, Kirsten, & Hartmann (2005) followed kindergarten children for 5 years and obtained yearly assessments of their gender knowledge of specific objects and activities and their verbal preferences for those same items. This study was part of a larger longitudinal research project on gender development in German children (see Trautner, 1992 and Trautner, Ruble, Cyphers et al., in press, for a detailed description of the sample and procedures). Like the Aubry et al. (1999) study, this research addressed many of the conceptual and methodological pitfalls in the literature by using identical knowledge and preference tasks and by employing correlational methods to assess concurrent and lag relationships. However, an additional advantage of this research is that it examined how rigidly children applied their gender knowledge to determine whether the relationship between knowledge and preferences depends, in part, on this factor.

The gender stereotyped items that were used for these analyses included 5 feminine (e.g., dolls, cooking and baking) and 8 masculine (e.g., trucks and car washing) concrete objects and activities.5 For the gender knowledge measure, the child was presented with individual cards that had the items written on them. After the statement was read aloud, the child was asked to drop the card into one of five boxes representing only males, more males than females, equal numbers of males and females, more females than males, or only females. For the masculine items, a child was given a "correct" score if she or he placed the card in either the only males (score = 5) or more males than females box (score = 4). The reverse scoring system was used for the feminine items (e.g., only females = 5). A child's total gender knowledge score was calculated as the number of items correct out of the 13 items.

In addition to receiving a total score, children were rated according to how rigidly they applied their gender knowledge. The rigidity score was calculated as the number of items labeled as only characteristic of the appropriate gender. Using a median split, children were also classified according to their age of peak rigidity (i.e., early or late) and their level of peak rigidity (i.e., high or low). Age of peak rigidity was defined as the age at which a child gave her/his maximum number of correct "only" responses, and level of peak rigidity was calculated as the maximum number of correct "only" responses at any age6 (see Trautner, Ruble, Cyphers et al., in press).

Children's preferences were assessed by presenting 24 black and white ink drawings of the objects and activities. They were arranged into four sets according to domain: toys, play activities, household chores, and occupational activities. Each set contained two feminine, two masculine, and two gender neutral items. The children were presented with the six items in each set and asked to choose the item that they liked best. The chosen card was then removed and the children were asked to choose their next favorite item. This procedure was continued until all six cards were rated from the best liked item to the least favorite item (i.e., 1 to 6).

In the present analyses, only the rankings for the 13 stereotyped concrete items were examined. Each child received a same-sex preference score and an opposite-sex avoidance score. The same-sex preference score was obtained by calculating a weighted sum of their 1st and 2nd choice rankings within each set. Children received a "2" if they picked a same-sex item for their first choice, and a "1" if they picked a same-sex item for their second choice. A "0" was given when children picked either a neutral or opposite-sex item for their top two choices. In contrast, the opposite-sex avoidance score was obtained by calculating a weighted sum of the 5th and 6th choice rankings. Namely, children received a "1" if their 5th choice was an opposite-sex item, and a "2" if their 6th choice was an opposite-sex item. A score of "0" was assigned when children picked either a same-sex or neutral item for their last two choices. To obtain an overall same-sex approach and opposite-sex avoidance score, a total of the weighted sums for each set were divided by the maximum possible score.7

The results are presented in two main sections. The first section describes the developmental trends that emerged from the individual knowledge and preference tasks. Following this analysis, we explore whether children's knowledge of gender stereotypes is related to their preferences for those same items. An examination of this relationship is conducted in three ways. Similar to Aubry et al. (1999), we present results from the cross-lagged-panel correlations between the stereotype knowledge and preference measures. We then describe the two analyses that focus on the association between rigidity of stereotyping and preferences. First, we examine whether developmental trends in children's preferences show a different pattern when the children are grouped according to their age of peak rigidity rather than age in years. Second, analyses of variance (ANOVAs) are used to examine whether individual differences in preferences are associated with variations in peak rigidity of stereotyping (i.e., early versus late, and high versus low).

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