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Studying the Same-Gender Preference as a Defining Feature of Cultural Contexts

Research on culture would be enriched by studying the connection between gender and peer relations. Cultures vary in the roles, privileges, opportunities, and right that are ascribed to girls and boys.

They are known to also differ in the degree to which girls and boys interact with each other. Although the preference for same-gender peers has been observed across multiple cultural contexts, the degree of this segregation between girls and boys varies across contexts. We argue that variability in the divide between girls and boys is an important cultural feature of contexts that is likely to affect developmental processes and outcomes.

In this paper, we propose that a well-established finding from research on peer relations can be used to measure and understand diversity in gendered experiences across cultural contexts. The peer finding that interests us is the observation that, beginning in early childhood and continuing across the school-age years and into adolescence, girls and boys are more likely to associate with and like same-gender peers more than other-gender peers Rubin et al.

This divergence is meaningful in at least two ways. It provides insight into the degree to which gender functions as a social category that organizes interpersonal experiences. We argue that it can be used to expand our understanding of how gendered experiences within the peer group vary across cultural contexts and how these differences may affect development. The same-gender preference is typically conceived of and measured at the level of the person.

It refers to the degree to which a person prefers to like, befriend or become acquaintances with same-gender peers compared to other-gender peers. In this respect, it is perceived to be a form of personal preference. We propose that this same-gender preference can also be conceived as a feature of social groups. Our point is that this key component of gender segregation will vary in meaningful ways across contexts, and that these contextual variations have important consequences for basic forms of development.

Finally, although we recognize the limitations of this decision, we have chosen to predominately reference traditional, binary gender categories e. This decision was made to allow for simplicity in the comparisons made across time and cultural contexts. We recognize that culture can be a contested construct that is difficult to define Geertz, We define culture as the activities and the related cognitions, attitudes, and values that are characteristic of a particular context Ratner, The points we wish to make can be applied to a broad set of contexts.

These contexts may be small, such as a classroom-based peer group or large, such as a nation state. They can also vary in their status as either formal institutional structures, such as a school context or informal voluntary groups, such as a fitness class at a neighborhood gym. The same-gender preference has been widely replicated Thorne, ; Maccoby and Jacklin, ; Maccoby, It has been observed across multiple studies using either observation-based measures of social interaction Martin et al.

Other studies of the same-gender preference have assessed differences in the degree to which children and adolescents expect to enjoy interacting with same- and other-gender peers Strough and Covatto, Alternatively, some studies focus on the importance of respecting the boundary or the dividing line that keeps same- and other-gender peers apart from each other during preadolescence Sroufe et al. Although research on the same-gender preference has been focused largely in the childhood and adolescent periods, there is evidence that it extends well into adulthood Mehta and Strough, The well-documented evidence that females and males of all ages tend to like and spend more time with their same-gender peers than with their other-gender peers is a traditional staple of the literature on both gender e.

It is one of the primary contact points between developmental research on gender and research on peer relations. Its strength is its capacity to summarize into a single term or concept the differences taken from different forms of functioning and from different levels of social complexity including the levels of the individual, dyad, and group. This breadth is also a limitation. The study of the same-gender preference and of gender issues more generally, has received little attention in both the literature on peer relations and culture as well as on gender and culture.

Gender rarely enters into culturally informed studies of peer relations. A similar comment can be made, albeit to a smaller degree and from a different perspective, about the study of gender and culture. Cultural analyses of gender have typically centered on issues of power, access to resources, privileges, and social roles. They highlight and reinforce the evidence that the different social roles, experiences, and opportunities that are ascribed to women and men vary across cultural contexts.

Social and cultural analyses of gender have a group focus in the sense that women and men are perceived to constitute different groups within contexts. In spite of this apparent group focus, analyses often deal with social phenomena at the level of the individual. These comparisons typically examine the rights and personal experiences that are ascribed to individuals as a function of the gender category in which they are situated. In this way, their focus is on what individual people do, or can do, as a function of their gender rather than focusing on gender as a group level construct or category.

This emphasis on the rights, roles, and privileges that are ascribed to individuals as a function of their gender, fails to capture differences in the degree to which individuals see the same-gender and the other-gender as distinct social groups—or the degree to which the same-gender group is taken to be the primary domain of social participation. It is known already that, in some contexts, strong prescriptions keep men and women apart, especially in the social sphere.

This divergence between women and men, or between the same and the other, can be the result of well-established traditions reinforced by institutional practices.

As an example, in some groups, men and women are not allowed to touch each other, except in narrowly defined personal circumstances Feldheim, ; girls and boys cannot be students in the same primary and secondary school classrooms Bahrami et al. In contrast, in other places, individuals are allowed to associate more freely with members of the other gender. They can work and socialize together without formal concerns about crossing a boundary that keeps the same and the other apart.

It should be noted that network analyses of social groups in different cultural contexts consistently reveal a same-gender bias in social selection processes for reviews see Martin et al. It claims that the salience of social group memberships is the result of context-based practices that clearly delineate social category memberships, including gender.

These concepts are typically used to explain, in part, their preference for same-gender peers. A direct consequence of category salience is the infrequent levels of interaction between individuals from different groups. Other consequences that come from this infrequent interaction may be more insidious and have stronger developmental effects.

One of these effects may be the limited level of exposure that children and adolescents have to the norms, expectations, and practices of the other-gender group. This restricted exposure to a broader set of standards and beliefs has the potential to create a narrow perspective on how to function with other-gender peers and on available opportunities for self-presentations and self-perceptions.

Another consequence may be a reinforcement and reification of the legitimacy of well-defined gender categories. The creation of inflexible gender conceptions is likely to have especially negative costs for children and adolescents who do not see themselves as fitting into traditional gender categories.

Clifford Geertz pointed to this topic in his descriptions of the language training he received in preparation to work on field projects in Morocco and Indonesia. He explained that the person teaching him Arabic would admonish him harshly when he made gender-based grammar errors, whereas the person teaching him the Javanese language was more concerned with mistakes with status-related terms.

This convergence of ideas across scientific disciplines e. Developmental psychologists have used the same-gender preference as a way of describing the features of the peer group and of assessing how the peer system changes with age. Studies of variations in the same-gender preference have typically focused on differences between individual children using measures of gender schemas Powlishta et al. Contextual analyses of variations in the same-gender preference have been far less frequent.

This general inattention to place differences is not entirely surprising in light of the overall paucity of research on cultural differences in many aspects of development. An important exception to the lack of attention paid to contextual differences in the same-gender preference is the study of Whiting and Edwards of the social interactions between girls and boys in different contexts including communities in India, Kenya, Mexico, Peru, Liberia, Guatemala, the Philippines, Okinawa, and the United States.

In this extensive study, titled Children of Different Worlds , Whiting and Edwards made careful observations of the amount of contact that girls and boys had with their same-gender and other-gender peers. From the outset, they used concepts from theory and research on cognitive development to form hypotheses about age differences in the preference for same-gender peers.

Similar to other researchers e. They also proposed that a basic curiosity to know what it means to be a male or female within their own culture would lead children to pay more attention to the peers whom they perceived to be like the self rather than to those whom they perceived to be different. In this way, they ascribe a functional self-related purpose to having a primary affiliation with same-gender peers. It is important to note that an implicit feature of this reasoning is that gender role conformity is a consequence of gender segregation rather than an antecedent of it.

The study of Whiting and Edwards of Different Worlds revealed similarities and variability across the contexts they studied. A general preference for same-gender peers was observed in each of the contexts they observed. In every community, school-age children were more likely to associate with members of their own gender than members of the other gender.

More importantly, the magnitude of this preference varied considerably across contexts. In one Kenyan community, the percentage of children in same-gender peer groups was 55, collapsed across boys and girls. The variance across these groups is, to us, vastly more impressive than the claim that groups in each community show a same-gender preference.

A more complicated set of findings observed by Cohen et al. In their study, preadolescent children from Sweden and the United States were asked to choose the peers whom they would like to have as a partner in a school-related task i. Three important findings were observed. Second, similar findings were observed with the personal task. A different pattern was observed with the girls.

On both tasks, boys were chosen more frequently by Swedish girls than by girls from the United States These findings indicate that the tendency to choose other-gender peers as associates varies as a function of context, type of task, and gender. The findings of contextual variations reported by Whiting and Edwards and by Cohen et al. They reveal substantial between-context variability in the orientation toward same- and other-gender peers.

It is hard to overlook the variability revealed by their findings. At the same time, however, this is only a beginning as these data are descriptive rather than explanatory. They present evidence of variability but they fail to explain the source or the consequences of this variability across national contexts. Instead, it is a powerful structural factor that defines the social-developmental environment across the lifespan, from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood.

Moreover, by providing direct evidence of the dimensions that organize the social context, these same-gender preferences may reinforce the constructs that account for intergroup conditions. Such exclusionary preferences may also reify and strengthen the belief in rigid and traditional gender categories.

Contextual variations in the strength of the same-gender preference are also likely to have important consequences on development. Peer experiences, for example, are known to promote well-being via several processes including opportunities for acceptance and validation, the promotion of social skills, and protective experiences that minimize the effects that may result from negative experiences within the family Rubin et al.

In this capacity, interactions and relationships with peers can function as social assets and developmental protective factors. When access to other-gender peers is foreclosed by a sharp divide between the same- and the other-gender peer groups, the range of these beneficial functions of peer relationships can be limited.

Two processes may be especially important to consider. The first is that segregation by gender limits access to social capital.

It is known that well-being derives from being accepted by both same- and other-gender peers Bukowski et al. The second process is concerned with protective factors. Some children are not liked by same-gender peers Bukowski et al.

Gender Segregation in the Workplace

Full Length Research Paper. Search for this author on: Google Scholar. This research was conducted to analyze play and playmate preferences of preschool girls and boys during free play time. The study group consisted of months old preschool children. There were ten girls, seven boys and a preschool teacher in the study group. They were all selected from a public preschool in Cukurova, a district of Adana a city in the south of Turkey in the fall semester of to academic year.

In this chapter locomotor play is discussed. Interestingly, this form of play has received wide and deep attention from behavioral biologists e. For example, in the only chapter dedicated to play in a Handbook of Child Psychology , Rubin, Fein, and Vandenberg made no mention of it. This is an interesting state of affairs given our current state of knowledge regarding definitions and putative functions of play. Specifically, locomotor play has been clearly defined in terms of exaggerated and nonfunctional behaviors and behavioral sequences Fagen, From this position, it seems that many psychologists have ignored one of the most common forms of play, as well as some basic theoretical and definitional assumptions regarding the functions of play.

Gender socialization is the process through which children learn about the social expectations, attitudes and behaviours typically associated with boys and girls. This topic looks at this socialization process and the factors that influence gender development in children. By the time children are about 3 years old, they have already begun to form their gender identity. For instance, boys are more active, physical and play in larger spaces than girls. In contrast, girls are more compliant, prosocial and play closer to adults than boys.

Gender Segregation in the Workplace

Women, Work, and Health pp Cite as. When we consider women in their role as members of the work force outside the home, two major phenomena command our attention: 1 occupations are segregated by gender to a remarkable degree and 2 women are much more likely than men to interrupt their out-of-home work careers in order to care for children. The second topic is considered in some depth in other chapters in this volume; this chapter will focus primarily on the central fact that working women are clustered mainly in one set of occupations, men mainly in others.

JavaScript is disabled for your browser. Some features of this site may not work without it. Gender segregation in early childhood: a test of the play style compatibility hypothesis.

National U. For women, gender segregation was associated with beliefs that same-gender peers were more responsive in conversation and with greater identification with same-gender others. For men, gender segregation was positively associated with preference for cooperative activities and negatively associated with communion.

Gender Segregation and its Correlates in Established Adulthood

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Studying the Same-Gender Preference as a Defining Feature of Cultural Contexts