Sex Differences in Social Behavior: A Social-Role Interpretation

By Alice H. Eagly | Go to book overview

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The Analysis of Sex Differences in Social Behavior: A New Theory and A New Method

This book presents a body of new scholarship on sex differences in social behavior. The theoretical orientation that is proposed considers sex differences to be a product of the social roles that regulate behavior in adult life. In the process of examining the empirical implications of this new theoretical perspective, new methods are employed for integrating sex-difference findings from the large research literatures on social behaviors. This combination of theory and method is illustrated by applying it to some classes of social behaviors, and it is shown that the new approach makes sex differences substantially more predictable and amenable to interpretation than they have been in the past.

The study of sex difference has not been an area of rapid progress. Although slow progress may not be atypical in psychology ( Meehl, 1978), some specific features of research and theory in this area may have made it difficult to develop an understanding of the conditions under which the behavior of women differs from that of men. First of all, progress might have occurred more quickly had psychologists not relied primarily on theoretical perspectives with only indirect relevance to adult behavior. In particular, approaches based on childhood socialization have provided the most popular interpretations of sex differences (e.g., Chodorow, 1978; Huston, 1983; Jacklin & Maccoby, 1983; Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974). To be sure, sex differences have interesting developmental histories that are worthy of study in their own right. Yet, understanding development does not necessarily enlighten us about the factors that maintain a sex difference among adults. Biological theories have also proven to be popular (see Bleier, 1984; Fausto-Sterling, 1985), but also feature causal variables that for

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