Developmental Psychology: An Advanced Textbook

By Marc H. Bornstein; Michael E. Lamb | Go to book overview

8

Sex-Role Development

Diane N. Ruble

New York University


INTRODUCTION

The study of sex-role acquisition has been of central concern to developmental psychologists for many years. Sex roles influence choices, values, and behaviors throughout the life span. As Mussen (1969) suggests, "No other social role directs more of an individual's overt behavior, emotional reactions, cognitive functioning, covert attitudes, and general psychological and social adjustment" (p. 707). Furthermore, sex-role demands have been implicated in physical health and life expectancy differences, favoring women, and mental health problems, especially depression, favoring men (Frieze, Parsons, Johnson, Ruble, & Zellman, 1978; Pleck, 1981). Sex-role development has also been a primary focus of debate among the major theories of social-personality development and is a frequent target of the nature—nurture controversy (Lamb & Urburg, 1978). In recent years, sex-role development has taken on a political flavor because of its implications for the Equal Rights Amendment, Women's Liberation Movement, and other issues of gender equality.

As with most aspects of development, the study of sex-role development has seen a number of shifts in methodological approaches and conceptual emphases. Unlike most areas, however, there has been a shift in the value placed on the final outcome of this developmental process. Until quite recently, the literature contained an implicit assumption that adopting sex-typed standards and behaviors was good—and necessary for psychological adjustment. Thus, understanding the antecedents of sex typing was viewed as providing information necessary for the optimal socialization of appropriately sex-typed individuals. In contrast, current research appears to be guided by an implicit assumption that sex-role

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