Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Boys, Girls, and "Two Cultures" of Child Care

Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Boys, Girls, and "Two Cultures" of Child Care

Article excerpt

This study examined differences in the quality of child care experienced by toddler boys and girls. Boys were more likely to be in lower-quality child care than girls, assessed with both setting-level measures and observations of caregiver-child interaction. A possible explanatory mechanism for the gender differences is suggested by evidence that the child care providers rated boys' behavior as more problematic and the provider-child relationship as less close as compared to girls. These perceived differences were not reflected in independent observations of the toddler's behavior or temperament. It was also the case that center-based classrooms with higher percentages of boys were rated lower in setting-level quality. Discussion focuses on the implications of these findings for child caregiver training and for parents seeking child care, as well as on the importance of examining gender as a salient child characteristic in child care research.

There is growing appreciation of the need to approach child care as an environment that is experienced differently by children, depending on their characteristics and family circumstances, with associated differences in developmental impacts. This has been demonstrated most consistently for children who differ in familial risk (Burchinal, Vandergrift, Pianta, & Mashburn, 2010; Caughy, DiPietro, & Strobino, 1994; Gormley, Gayer, Phillips, & Dawson, 2005; Peisner-Feinberg et al., 2001; Watamura, Phillips, Morrissey, McCartney, & Bub, 2011). Other efforts are exploring individual differences in temperament as they affect children's reactions to child care (Phillips, Fox, & Gunnar, 2011; Pluess & Belsky, 2009).

Gender, like family risk, is commonly examined as a moderating child characteristic in studies of the effects of child care. Boys and girls not only respond differently to their experiences in child care (Gunnar, Kryzer, Van Ryzin, & Phillips, 2010), but when gender differences in outcomes are reported, it is boys whose development appears to be compromised. For example, Howes and Olenick (1986), after controlling for a number of other predictors, found that laboratory assessments of compliance and selfregulation among IV2- to 3-year-old boys were more adversely affected by poor-quality child care than was the behavior of girls. Desai, ChaseLansdale, and Michael (1989) found that nonmaternal care during the first year of life had adverse impacts on the cognitive abilities of 4-year-old boys, but not girls, from high-income families. A reanalysis of data from randomized trials of early intervention programs serving disadvantaged African Americans found that positive long-term impacts (i.e., on preteens, teens, and adults) were restricted to girls (Anderson, 2008). Boys did not experience significant benefits across a range of educational outcomes (e.g., grade retention, special education placement, high school graduation, college attendance) and noneducational outcomes (e.g., juvenile arrests, marriage rates). Oden, Schweinhart, Weikart, Marcus, and Zie (2000) similarly reported that Head Start participation significantly raised high school graduation rates and lowered arrest rates for girls but not boys. Thus, irrespective of familial risk, and across studies of community-based child care and early intervention programs, boys appear to be more vulnerable to negative impacts and less likely to experience benefits from exposure to these early nonfamilial environments.

Gender and Child Care Quality

These indications of a gender-linked pattern of outcomes raise the question of whether boys' and girls' experiences in child care, in particular their exposure to high-quality environments, also differ. Only a handful of studies have directly examined gender differences in the quality of care experienced by young children, but, when differences are found, boys experience poorer-quality care than girls across a range of assessment methods. For example, Howes and Olenick (1986) focused on structural indicators in center-based arrangements and found that boys experienced poorer adultchild ratios and were cared for by less well trained and less stable teachers than were girls. …

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