The XX Factor

Learning Sex Difference

Speaking of kids and gender difference , a new study in the November/December issue of Child Development , by Lynn Liben and Lacey Hilliard at Penn State, suggests that preschoolers are awfully suggestive on this topic. The study took 57 kids between the ages of 3 and 5, from two preschools with similar demographics. For two weeks, at one school teachers continued their usual practice of not dividing kids by sex. At the other school, teachers used gendered language to form groups, like lining up boys and girls separately or asking them to post their work on separate bulletin boards. (Though they still didn’t say things like, “Who can be quieter, boys or girls?”)

At the end of the two weeks, the kids in the classrooms with the new injection of gender difference were more likely to say that only girls should play with dolls and only boys could be firefighters. These kids were also significantly less likely to play with children of the other sex . Details here . More evidence that kids can learn-or not learn-to think in stereotypes and to self-segregate.

Photograph by Avinash Meetoo from Wikimedia Commons.