Scholarly article on topic 'The Influence of Hometown Size on the Development of Gender Stereotypes in Children'

The Influence of Hometown Size on the Development of Gender Stereotypes in Children Academic research paper on "Sociology"

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{"Gender stereotypes" / "home town size" / "gender roles" / "gender development" / "psycho-social traits"}

Abstract of research paper on Sociology, author of scientific article — Claudia-Neptina Manea

Abstract The study aims at investigating the influence the size of the home town has on the evolution of gender stereotypes in Romanian preschool children (N=126). We investigated the differences in gender attributions made by girls and boys raised in a small town as opposed to a big city, in order to reveal particular ways of counterbalancing those stereotypes. The responses of children from the large city showed statistically significant differences on the items of “goodness”, “courage” and “hard work”. Preschoolers from the small town offered significantly different attributions to the items of “kindness”, “friendliness”, “hard work” and “courage”. Means of counterbalancing these stereotypes are suggested.

Academic research paper on topic "The Influence of Hometown Size on the Development of Gender Stereotypes in Children"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 92 (2013) 501 - 505

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The Influence of Hometown Size on the Development of Gender

Stereotypes in Children

Claudia - NeptinaManeaa *

_a PhD Lecturer, Ovidius University of Constanta, Bd. Mamaia, nr. 124, Constanta 900407, Romania_


The study aims at investigating the influence the size of the home town has on the evolution of gender stereotypes in Romanian preschool children (N=126). We investigated the differences in gender attributions made by girls and boys raised in a small town as opposed to a big city, in order to reveal particular ways of counterbalancing those stereotypes. The responses of children from the large city showed statistically significant differences on the items of "goodness", "courage" and "hard work". Preschoolers from the small town offered significantly different attributions to the items of "kindness", "friendliness", "hard work" and "courage". Means of counterbalancing these stereotypes are suggested.

© 2013TheAuthors.PublishedbyElsevier Ltd.

Selectionand/orpeer-review underresponsibility ofLumenResearch CenterinSocial andHumanisticSciences,AsociatiaLumen. Keywords: Gender stereotypes, home town size, gender roles, gender development, psycho-social traits;

1. Introduction

Gender does not represent an innate dimension of the human being, but a process of continuous construction and reconstruction, depending on many important factors such as parents, school, society and the child itself (Boyle, E. D., Marshall, N. L. & Robeson, W. W., 2003, 1326). The socio-cultural environment of the child has followed the continuous globalization that characterizes our society, children from all over the world being now, more than ever, a part of a common culture that includes music, sports and fashion (Devine, D., Nic Ghiolla Phadraigh, M. N. & Deegan, J., 2004, 211). Watson (2004) considered young people to be avid consumers of the transnational culture in its most prevalent manifestations: music, fashion, television and gastronomy (Watson, J. L., 2004, 125), all of these influencing children and the development of their self image. An important number of researchers have considered the importance of gender stereotypes in a person's development, as well as the

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +040770 634 911. E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Lumen Research Center in Social and Humanistic Sciences, Asociatia Lumen. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.08.708

influence that they hold on people's lives and well being. Even more studies were conducted in order to identify the particular sources of gender stereotypes development, psychologists from all over the world being interested in the way that society (in all of its forms) contribute to their creation.

In a study conducted in 1990, Andrée Pomerleau, Daniel Bolduc, Gérard Malcuit and Louise Cossette revealed the environmental gender stereotypes in the first two years of life, concluding that nowadays, very early in their development, girls and boys already experience environments which are dissimilar, and that these differential environments have an impact on the development of specific abilities and preferential activities in children (Pomerleau A. et al., 1990, 359). But it does not stop here. As Talcott Parsons emphasized in 1956, gender is a component of personality that needs to be created through the process of socialization (Parsons, 1957, 3), which will be achieved through joint action by all environmental factors and the education that the person will come into contact during its existence. Stereotypes are rooted into the culture in which we were born and live and are reproduced in all socio-cultural ways through socialization in the family and school, as well as through repeated exposure to various images in books, TV and newspapers (Brown, R., 1996, 35), therefore it is impossible for children to grow out of all these influences on gender. Children's books, cartoons, movies, magazines and programs promoted by the media consistently sketch male and female characters in a traditional manner (Cramer, K. M., Million, E. & Perreault, L. A., 2002, 164).

Parents, teachers, colleagues and friends, the media, doctors, psychologists and sociologists, authors of children's books or curricula, even people with whom the person simply comes into contact with - they all represent "the attitudes behind attitudes" (Powlishta, K. K, 2001, 196), factors that contribute to the maintaining and perpetuating of gender stereotypes and the socialization of human society by assimilating appropriate gender roles. Otherwise, the person risks punishment: social penalties, exclusion, teasing and so on, all result in the emergence of a negative self-image, of a poor adjustment to the society, in extreme cases even with an existence that is deprived of personal success and public recognition of the individual's intrinsec value.

2. Methodology

2.1. Purpose of study

The current research was meant to shed light on a specific source of gender stereotypes that, in our opinion, has not been sufficiently taken into account: the size of the home town in which people grow up. We intended to verify whether or not the home town size influences the gender stereotypes that children develop in their first years of life, and the differences that might appear in the way girls and boys, growing up in different types of cities, assume these gender stereotypes. We compared the answers that the boys and girls had given, in search for the influence that these stereotypes present on the development of gender stereotypes and the self image of young girls and boys. The basis for the research was the perspective which Lawrence Kohlberg (1966) has provided through his theory of cognitive development. As Lawrence Kohlberg stated, the preschooler engages in a 'spontaneous' assessment of his own value and of the value of others, showing a "natural" trend to assign value to himself, to seek appreciation, to compare himself with others and to evaluate others (Kohlberg, 1966, 82). Following Lawrence Kohlberg's assumption, that the cognitive learning of sex-role concepts leads to the development of new attitudes and values, independent both to socialization pressures and to direct learning experience, we further assumed that the differences that appear in the gender stereotypes of the preschool children that grew up in a small city (and were exposed more frequently to traditional gender roles and gender stereotypes) will be more significant than those that appear in the case of children that grew up in a big city (and had different opportunities to see people overcome these traditional stereotypes).

2.2. Research subject field

The data used in the research was obtained during the first semester of the 2009-2010 school year (October 2009 - February 2010). The Research subject field is made of 126 preschool children, aged between 5 and 6, half boys and half girls, half emerging from a big city (Constanta), and the rest from a small city (Murfatlar), selected through the "match by pairs" method, to ensure the participation of a heterogeneous group in terms of economic, educational and social status.

Table 1. The Research subject field (N=126)

Gender Boys Girls Total

n % n % n %

Hometown size big 31 24,6 32 25,4 63 50

small 31 24,6 32 25,4 63 50

Total 62 49,2 64 50,8 126 100

2.3. Research methods

The method used in obtaining the results was the reading of two stories created in accordance with the preschool children's characteristics, in which children are asked on five different situations to assign some actions to one of two characters (a boy or a girl), in accordance with the psycho-moral characteristics they believe to be specific for each of the two genders. The five situations illustrated that problems can be solved through determined action of five personality traits: kindness, intelligence, courage, friendliness and hard work (all of which were attributed at the beginning of the story, to both characters, to ensure a strong projection of the children). Children's responses were noted using an observation protocol, while also pursuing their nonverbal reactions, the certainty of the answers, the explanations and any information considered relevant to children's opinions related to the cases investigated. This method was verified through the method of conversation, in order to assure that the characteristics chosen by children were in accordance with the gender beliefs they held.

The data was statistically analyzed, using SPSS 17. Comparisons were made considering the area of origin of the children, the analysis being differentiated considering the city of provenience.

3. Findings and results

The responses offered by preschool children raised in a big city showed statistical significant differences for the items of "kindness" (p sig. =.000 / p sig. =.000), "courage" (p sig. =.003 / p sig. =.038) and "hard work" (p sig. =.023/ p sig. =.017).

rd work (P2) courage (P2)

rd work №1) courage P1)

□ girls

□ boys

Fig. 1. „Boy" attributing of psycho-morale features made by boys (N=31) and girls (N=32) from big cities

As for children from a small town, preschoolers offered attributions significantly different on the items of "kindness" (p sig. =.017 / p sig. =.010), "friendliness (sociability)" (p sig. =.001 / p sig. =.002), "hard work" (p sig. =.002) and "courage "(p sig. =.000).

□ girls

□ boys

Fig.2. „Boy" attributing of psycho-morale features made by boys (N=31) and girls (N=32) from small cities

As the results prove, overall, the assignments are consistent with previous research results - Carl Hoffman and Nancy Hurst (Hoffman, C. & Hurst, N., 1990, 197), showing a strong tendency to associate communal traits to female characters, while men tend to be attributed mainly agent traits.

One of the most significant items in this matter is represented by "friendliness", which proved to present statistically significant differences in the answers of boys and girls only in the case of preschoolers raised in a small city. While both girls and boys from big cities tend to attribute friendliness mostly to the female character, children raised in the small town mostly attributed "friendliness" to the character that corresponded to their own gender. A possible explanation regards the different particularities of the two types of cities. While small town children are raised to be friendly to everyone (usually these children grow up in a rather close environment, where everybody knows everybody), big town preschoolers tend to receive a more stereotypical education in the matter, little girls learning to act as young ladies and create positive relationships, boys are told they need to be more selective and thus learn to take more time in creating friendships.

Another interesting situation is brought by the item of "hard work". The answers of children raised in the large city sustain this discrepancy noted two decades ago, probably due to socio-economic particularities specific to that environment of origin. Romanian women still present a difficulty in accessing better paid jobs, as most often top-level positions are occupied by men (who are paid accordingly, becoming the main source of the financial income in a family). As a consequence, most of the household work is the task of women, issues that children perceive and internalize accordingly.

An interesting situation is observed in the case of preschoolers raised in the small town. While most of the girls consider the female character to be more diligent in both stories, the boys assigned diligence to the female character in the second story (confirming the pattern already highlighted), but assigned it to the male character in the first story (even if the difference in percentage is not a great one). A possible explanation for this discrepancy regards the particular contexts described in the two stories. If the second story features activities considered to be specific to women (cooking), the first story present tasks that boys could also relate to (such as feeding the animals etc.). In these circumstances, given the peculiarities of everyday life in small cities (still maintaining, in many cases, the characteristics of rural communities), the distribution of children's responses to these aspects seems obvious.

Statistically significant differences were also recorded in the assignment of "courage". Although courage was considered to be a male feature by all groups involved, the answers of the small town children presented a more

important statistical difference (p sig. =.000 vs. p sig. =.003 /.038). This can probably be explained best by taking a closer look at the answers provided by boys - all of them attributing the "courage" to the male character. The explanation seems rather simple: due to the socio-economic situation of small cities, children are more exposed to violence, men being the ones that traditionally tend to solve this kind of problems - therefore the attributions made by preschoolers.

The last of the statistically significant differences was registered in the case of the item "kindness". Although all of the groups tended to attribute this feature to the same-sex character, the difference registered in the case of small town children (p sig. = .017/.010) seems to be less significant than that obtained in the case of large town children (p sig. = .000/.000). The explanation also regards the social-economic situation of the two types of cities.

4. Conclusions

The differences revealed prove the importance of education in the development of gender stereotypes in preschool children. Home town size influence the way children perceive gender roles and particularities, mostly because of the gender stereotypes already present in the environment.

The importance of gender stereotypes in children's everyday life is crucial. If children grow up believing they have to follow certain stereotypes and gender roles, their whole existence will be a continuous process of neglecting their needs and their secret hopes.

If society wants to evolve, it needs to understand that children are all individuals that need to be allowed to touch their inner potential, whether or not it corresponds to what they are supposed to be in society's eyes. Girls should be allowed to be just as courageous and intelligent as their brothers, boys should be helped to understand that kindness, friendliness and hard work are desirable features of both social genders.

Parents, teachers, media professionals, children books' authors, school books' authors, community members -the whole society is responsible to educate children in a gender free environment and to teach values and principles that will allow children to become the best versions of themselves. Whether children grow up in small towns or in big cities, they all need to be free to experience and to find out for themselves what their abilities really are - this is the only way society will ever find its path toward the future it desires.


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