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Childhood Through Adolescence: A Biosocial Analysis

The Development of Gendered Interests and Personality Qualities From
Middle Childhood Through Adolescence: A Biosocial Analysis
Susan M. McHale
The Pennsylvania State University
Ji-Yeon Kim
University of Hawaii at Manoa
Aryn M. Dotterer
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Ann C. Crouter and Alan Booth
The Pennsylvania State University
This study charted the development of gendered personality qualities and activity interests from age 7 to age
19 in 364 first- and secondborn siblings from 185 White, middle ⁄ working-class families, assessed links
between time in gendered social contexts (with mother, father, female peers, and male peers) and gender
development, and tested whether changes in testosterone moderated links between time use and gender
development. Multilevel models documented that patterns of change varied across dimensions of gender and
by sex and birth order and that time in gendered social contexts was generally linked to development of more
stereotypical qualities. Associations between time with mother and expressivity and time with father and
instrumentality were stronger for youth with slower increases in testosterone.
Gender is central in human development. Whether
‘‘it’s a girl’’ or ‘‘it’s a boy’’ is a topic of keen interest
for parents-to-be, and an increasing body of work
evidences differences in the ways parents treat their
daughters and sons (Leaper, 2002; McHale, Crouter,
& Whiteman, 2003; Ruble, Martin, & Berenbaum,
2006). Children’s gender also is marked in the
world outside the home, particularly in the peer
group (Leaper, 1994), and the implications of gender development are evident across the life span in
individuals’ opportunities and choices about education, work, and family roles.
The first goal of this study was to chart the
course of gender development in girls and boys
across middle childhood and adolescence in two
key domains: (a) gendered personality qualities,
specifically, stereotypically feminine, expressive
qualities such as sensitivity and kindness, and stereotypically masculine, instrumental qualities such
as independence and leadership, and (b) gendered
interests, including in stereotypically feminine
activities such as dance and handicrafts, and stereotypically masculine activities such as sports and
science. As we elaborate, these domains are central
in gender development and have been linked to
current and long-term functioning in areas ranging
from relationship quality to education achievement
(Ruble et al., 2006).
Our second goal was to identify factors that
explain individual differences in patterns of change.
Grounding our work in an ecological perspective on
the role of daily activities in development (Bronfenbrenner, 1979), we focused on the amounts of time
youth spend in gendered social contexts, specifically, time with mother, father, and female and male
peers, as these change over time, as potential
correlates of the development of youth’s gendered
personality qualities and interests. Gender development research also directs attention to the role of
biological factors in the development of sex and
individual differences. In this study we focus on the
hormone testosterone. To date, most researchers
have focused on the role of prenatal levels of testosterone in gender development (e.g., Berenbaum &
We thank Matt Bumpus, Kelly Davis, Doug Granger, Heather
Helms, Julia Jackson-Newsom, Marni Kan, Wayne Osgood, Lilly
Shanahan, Cindy Shearer, Kimberly Updegraff, Shawn Whiteman, and Megan Winchell for their help in conducting this
study and the participating families for their time and insights
about their family lives. This work was funded by a grant from
the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development,
RO1-HD32336, Ann C. Crouter and Susan M. McHale, co-principal investigators.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to
Susan M. McHale, Department of Human Development and
Family Studies, S-110 Henderson, Penn State University, University Park, PA 16802. Electronic mail may be sent to
[email protected].
Child Development, March/April 2009, Volume 80, Number 2, Pages 482–495
2009, Copyright the Author(s)
Journal Compilation 2009, Society for Research in Child Development, Inc.
All rights reserved. 0009-3920/2009/8002-0013
Hines, 1992; Hines et al., 2002; Udry, 2000). We
expanded on this work to study the role of testosterone during the pubertal transition as a potential
correlate of gender development. Then, following
on work suggesting that testosterone may set
constraints on the effects of gender socialization
influences (e.g., Berenbaum & Hines, 1992; Hines
et al., 2002; McHale, Shanahan, Updegraff, Crouter,
& Booth, 2004; Udry, 2000), we tested whether the
level or rate of increase in circulating testosterone in
early adolescence moderated the links between
youth’s time in gendered social contexts and the
development of their gendered personality qualities
and interests.
The Development of Gendered Personality Qualities
Children’s sense of being feminine or masculine
is often equated with their perceptions of their gendered personality qualities, making this a domain
of interest to gender researchers (Huston, 1985).
Understanding the development of qualities such
as kindness and sensitivity or independence and
leadership also is important because of their links
with well-being and adjustment. From childhood
on, stereotypically feminine, expressive qualities
are important for positive social relationships (e.g.,
Maccoby, 1998), and stereotypically masculine,
instrumental qualities reflect experiences of selfefficacy and competence that are central to psychological adjustment (e.g., Crick & Zahn-Waxler,
2003; Hoffman, Powlishta, & White, 2004).
Most research on the development of gendered
personality traits is cross-sectional and suggests
that boys’ and girls’ self-descriptions diverge in
childhood, with sex differences persisting through
adolescence as youth become increasingly aware of
social definitions of gender (Ruble et al., 2006). The
hypothesis that gender socialization pressures
increase across the transition to adolescence (Hill &
Lynch, 1983) has led researchers to focus on this
developmental period, with mixed results: One
study showed that sex differences in instrumentality, but not expressivity, increased from ages 11
and 12 to age 13 (Galambos, Almeida, & Petersen,
1990). Other researchers have not found a clear pattern of age-related sex differences, however (e.g.,
Antill, Russell, Goodnow, & Cotton, 1993). We
expanded on prior work, using multilevel modeling
analyses (MLM) to chart trajectories of change in
expressivity and instrumentality from about age 7
to about age 19 in a sample of European American
youth. Studying a relatively large sample over an
extended period of time allowed us to illuminate
both within-sex changes among girls and among
boys as well as sex differences in patterns of change
in these traits.
The Development of Gendered Interests
Gender is multidimensional, and its different
dimensions are thought to exhibit different developmental patterns that emerge through different
processes (Ruble et al., 2006). Tracking age-related
changes within domains of gender thus illuminates
some of the complexities of gender development
(e.g., Crouter, Whiteman, McHale, & Osgood,
2007). In this study we focused on sex-typed interests as a second key domain of gender. As others
have suggested, the development of gendered interests has implications for outcomes ranging from
education plans and achievement to career development and family formation (e.g., Jacobs, Lanza,
Osgood, Eccles, & Wigfield, 2002).
Available data are largely cross-sectional and
reveal sex differences in interests among toddlers
that become more evident by early childhood
(Ruble et al., 2006). Investigators have studied toy
preferences as well as interests in leisure activities
(sports, the arts), chores, academics, and occupations (Edelbrock & Sugawara, 1978; Liben & Bigler,
2002; Serbin, Powlishta, & Gulko, 1993). Changes
over time and place in social constructions of gender, coupled with the array of interests studied,
however, make it difficult to draw a unitary conclusion about the development of gendered interests (Ruble et al., 2006). Further, declines in
gendered interests may emerge because interests
become increasingly specialized across development (e.g., computers, not sports; drawing, not
dance). Studying the ‘‘subjective value’’ of activities, an index that included a rating of interest as
well as ratings levels of fun, utility, and importance of activities, Jacobs et al. (2002) documented
longitudinal declines from Grade 2 to Grade 12 in
both girls’ and boys’ ratings of the value of math,
language arts, and sports. In this study, we used
an analytic approach similar to Jacobs et al. to
describe changes in girls’ and boys’ interests in
gendered activities from middle childhood through
late adolescence.
The Social Contexts of Gender Development
From an ecological perspective, activities are
both causes and consequences of development
(Bronfenbrenner, 1979): Activities reflect contextually based opportunities for the development of
Development of Personality and Interests 483
interests and skills, social ties, and a sense of identity (Coatsworth et al., 2005; Lareau, 2003; Larson &
Verma, 1999). Individuals’ choices about how to
spend time also reflect personal dispositions and predilections (Medrich, Roizen, Rubin, & Buckley, 1982).
In keeping with these ecological ideas, gender
development researchers have examined the social
contexts of youth activities as both a reflection of
and an impetus for gender development. Research
on peer relationships documents the pervasiveness
of gender segregation in middle childhood (Leaper,
1994; Maccoby, 1998), and children’s gendered
interests and personality qualities have figured
prominently in these discussions. In childhood,
spending time with same-sex peers may arise in
part because of compatible interests (e.g., in roughand-tumble play for boys) and personal-social qualities (e.g., expressive interpersonal styles in girls).
In turn, involvement with same-sex peers may promote stereotypical gender development. From a
social learning perspective, children are reinforced
for sex-typed behaviors and interests, and from a
gender schema perspective, such experiences promote the development of cognitive constructions of
self and others (Ruble et al., 2006).
Although the extent of gender segregation in
children’s peer groups has been well documented,
there is less direct evidence of its implications for
gender development (Leaper, 1994). One study of
preschoolers found that same-sex play predicted
increases in sex-typed social behavior over a period
of 6 months (Martin & Fabes, 2001). Youth become
more involved with other-sex peers by adolescence
(Richards, Crowe, Larson, & Swarr, 1998), but little
is known about the correlates of same- and othersex peer involvement during this time. In a paper
based on a subset of the current sample, we
reported that time with male peers at about age 10
was a negative predictor of girls’ and boys’ stereotypically feminine academic interests (in language
arts) at age 12, controlling for age 10 interests, but
we found no links between time with either male
or female peers and youth’s gendered personality
qualities (McHale, Kim, Whiteman, & Crouter,
2004). We expanded on this work in the present
study, using a more powerful analytic technique, a
longer time frame, and a larger sample, to examine
how changes in youth’s time with male and female
peers are linked to changes in youth’s gendered
interests and personality qualities from about age 7
to about age 19.
Parents also are important agents of gender
socialization (Leaper, 2002). Most research on
parental influences is grounded in social learning
ideas and focuses on parents as role models and
sources of reinforcement. From an ecological perspective, spending time with a parent of the same
or other sex provides children with opportunities
to observe gendered interests, personal-social qualities, and other behaviors of women and men.
Consistent with a gender schema perspective, allocations of time to activities with a parent of the
same or other sex also may foster the development
of cognitive constructions about social roles. Prior
research shows that children’s time with parents is,
in fact, gendered: Beginning in infancy, children
spend more time with their mothers than their
fathers; by early adolescence, mothers spend more
time with girls and fathers with boys (Montemayor
& Brownlee, 1987); and, consistent with the gender
intensification hypothesis, the latter pattern of
same-sex parent–offspring involvement becomes
more pronounced across the transition to adolescence (Crouter, Manke, & McHale, 1995). We know
little, however, about how time with mother and
father is linked to gender development. In our prior
report we showed that (controlling for age 10 characteristics) girls’ time with mother at age 10 was a
positive predictor of language arts grades at age 12,
and time with father was a positive predictor of
math grades, but a negative predictor of interest in
language arts; time with father also predicted
increases in girls’ instrumental personality qualities. In contrast, there were not significant associations for boys (McHale, Kim, et al., 2004). We
expanded on this work in the current study.
Our prior work also revealed that family influences are not reducible to dyadic experiences with
mother or with father. Instead, in a series of reports
we have shown that youth’s position in the sibling
constellation of a family has implications for their
development, such that older and younger siblings
exhibit different developmental trajectories in
domains ranging from gender attitudes, to family
relationships, to adjustment problems (Crouter
et al., 2007; Kim, McHale, Crouter, & Osgood, 2007;
Shanahan, McHale, Crouter, & Osgood, 2007).
These patterns suggest that younger siblings’ development may be shaped by the experiences of firstborns; this may be, in part, because both parents
and younger sibling learn from firstborns’ experiences. In the face of early interest in the topic (e.g.,
Brim, 1958), gender development researchers have
paid little attention to the role of siblings. In this
study, therefore, we expanded on prior work to
examine within-family differences in the development of gendered personality characteristics and
interests of first- versus secondborn siblings.
484 McHale, Kim, Dotterer, Crouter, and Booth
Biosocial Processes in Gender Development
The biological bases of individual differences in
gender development have been a focus of increasing interest (Ruble et al., 2006). ‘‘Experiments of
nature’’ (Bronfenbrenner, 1979) provide insights
into the role of abnormal levels of prenatal androgens (male hormones) in gender development (e.g.,
Berenbaum & Hines, 1992), and more recent studies
have examined the role of prenatal testosterone in
gender development within general population
samples. Hines et al. (2002), for example, reported
that prenatal testosterone was positively related to
parents’ reports of girls’, but not boys’, stereotypically masculine play activities in a large sample of
preschoolers. In a study of young adults, Udry
(2000) found that women who had been exposed to
higher prenatal testosterone reported less genderstereotypical personal-social qualities. This study
also documented the moderational role of prenatal
testosterone: At low levels of testosterone, mothers’
encouragement of femininity was linked to more
stereotypical development, but at high levels of testosterone, mothers’ encouragement was unrelated
to gender development.
We know less about the role of postnatal testosterone in gender development. Existing research
shows that boys and girls are similar in their levels
of testosterone in early childhood but that testosterone levels rise and begin to diverge in middle
childhood, with boys’ levels rising more steeply
than girls’, and levels for both reaching a peak in
later adolescence (Buchanan, Eccles, & Becker,
1992). Based on their review of the literature on the
role of testosterone in adolescence, Buchanan et al.
(1992) proposed that young adolescents’ behavior
is affected by the rapid rate of increase in testosterone at this developmental period; once testosterone
levels off and youth become acclimated to higher
levels, psychological and social influences may
again become more important behavioral influences. In our prior work we found evidence for the
role of testosterone in early adolescence. Testosterone levels moderated the longitudinal links
between girls’ self-rated feminine interests and
their time spent in stereotypically feminine activities (dance, handicrafts) measured using a daily
diary procedure, such that interests and activities
were linked only among girls with low testosterone
levels (McHale, Shanahan, et al., 2004). Consistent
with Udry’s (2000) conclusions, we interpreted this
finding to mean that high testosterone levels may
set constraints on the effects of socialization
experiences like activity involvement. Although
Buchanan et al.’s analysis implied that the rate of
increase in testosterone may be the important factor
at the transition to adolescence, we were not able
to test this hypothesis in our earlier work. Accordingly, in this study, we built on prior work to
examine the role of testosterone in early adolescence in the development of girls’ and boys’ gendered personality qualities and interests, testing
the hypotheses that higher levels and⁄ or faster
increases in testosterone would set constraints on
socialization influences such that the link between
youth’s time in gendered social contexts and the
development of gendered traits and interests
would be stronger for youth who showed lower
levels and⁄ or rates of increase in testosterone.
Overview of Study Goals
In sum, this study was directed at two goals.
First, we charted the course of the development
of girls’ and boys’ gendered personality qualities
(expressivity and instrumentality) and their gendered activity interests from about age 7 to about
age 19. Second, we assessed factors that explained
individual differences in patterns of change. To
address the latter goal we measured the links
between changes in youth’s gendered qualities and
changes in the (gendered) social contexts of their
daily activities, specifically, their time spent with
mothers, fathers, and female and male peers, and
we examined biosocial processes in gender development, testing whether testosterone levels and
rates of increase across early adolescence moderated the links between youth’s time spent in gendered social contexts and the development of their
gendered qualities and interests.
The sample included mothers, fathers, and 364
youth who were first- or secondborn siblings from
185 families that participated in a longitudinal
study of family relationships. Families were
recruited via letters sent home from schools in 16
districts of a Northeastern state. These letters
described the study and criteria for participation:
always married parents with a firstborn child in
the fourth or fifth grade and at least one sibling
1–3 years younger. Interested families returned a
postcard to the project office. Of those families who
returned postcards to us and who met our criteria,
over 90% agreed to participate.
Development of Personality and Interests 485
Data collection began in 1995–1996. The data for
the current study were drawn from the 1st, 2nd,
3rd, 6th, and 7th years of the study (termed Times
1–5 in this article), the years in which the data
of interest were collected; there was no attrition
from our target sample over the course of this
study period. At Time 1, firstborns averaged
10.86 years of age (SD = 0.54, range = 9.64–12.59)
and secondborns averaged 8.27 years (SD = 0.94,
range = 6.05–10.30); at Time 5, firstborns averaged
17.36 years of age (SD = 0.80, range = 15.52–19.02)
and secondborns averaged 14.77 years (SD = 1.17,
range = 12.03–17.40). The age range of siblings and
multiple points of data collection meant that we
had at least 15 youth at each year of age from
about age 7 (i.e., age 6.5–7.5 years) to age 19 (i.e.,
age 18.5–19.5 years) who provided data for the
analyses. Sibling dyads were divided almost
equally among the four possible sex constellations,
such that about half the sample was female.
At Time 1, the average mother and father had
completed some college (M = 14.57, SD = 2.15;
M = 14.67, SD = 2.40 years of education for mothers and fathers, respectively; a score of 12 indicates
high school graduate, 14 indicates some college, 16
indicates college graduate), and mothers’ and
fathers’ education levels were correlated, r = .56.
Further, all fathers and approximately 90% of
mothers were employed. Families ranged in size
from four to nine members (including mother and
father), with about half of the sample including
children younger than the two target siblings.
Reflecting the demographics of their small cities,
towns, and rural communities in which they
resided, families were predominantly White and
working and middle class. Although not representative of U.S. families, the sample comes close to
capturing the racial background of families from
the region (> 94% White), but comparisons with
2000 census data suggest that these families were
somewhat more affluent than the average household in the region.
We used three data collection procedures. First,
we conducted home interviews with mothers, fathers,
and both siblings each year. At the beginning of
these interviews, informed consent⁄ assent was
obtained, and families received an honorarium for
participation ($100 at Times 1–3; $200 at Times 4
and 5). Then, family members were questioned separately about their personal qualities and family
relationship experiences.
Our second procedure involved collection of
saliva samples from youth and parents. At Times 2,
3, and 5, family members completed a separate
informed consent form and were paid an extra $25
for participation in this part of the study. Family
members provided saliva samples during the home
interviews (expectorating 5 ml of saliva through a
plastic straw into a 20-ml sample collection vial)
and upon rising on the two mornings following the
home interview, and samples were refrigerated
immediately after collection. After the second
morning collection, samples were sent to the project
office, where they aliquoted and stored at )80C
until assayed. Because a range of factors, such as
phase of the menstrual cycle, vigorous exercise,
and smoking may affect testosterone levels (Booth,
Mazur, & Dabbs, 1993), family members also
completed a brief questionnaire each time they
provided a saliva sample.
The third data collection procedure was directed
at obtaining information about youth’s daily activities. Specifically, during the 3–4 weeks following
the home interviews each year, we conducted seven
evening telephone interviews (five on weekday evenings, two on weekend evenings). During these
calls, youth reported on their daily activities outside of school. During each call, youth were asked
how many times they had participated in a list of
about 70 activities (e.g., play sports, do handicrafts,
watch TV) from the time they woke up that morning until the time of the call. For each activity
reported, youth were asked how long the activity
had lasted and with whom they had engaged in
that activity. Calls were scheduled in the evenings
so that they could report on almost all their activities during the day.
Gendered personal social qualities (expressivity and
instrumentality) were measured with the Antill
Trait Questionnaire (Antill et al., 1993), a 12-item
measure on which youth used a 5-point scale to
rate how well particular traits (e.g., gentle and
helpful vs. competitive and adventurous) described
them. For this sample, across all times and across
siblings, Cronbach’s alphas averaged .74 for expressivity and .60 for instrumentality, and cross-time
(stability) correlations averaged r = .37 for expressivity and r = .47 for instrumentality.
Gendered activity interests were measured by a
measure adapted from Huston, McHale, and
Crouter (1985). Parents (at Time 1) and youth (at
each time point) used a 4-point scale to rate their
486 McHale, Kim, Dotterer, Crouter, and Booth
interest in the same activities on which youth
reported in the phone interviews. The socially constructed nature of gendered qualities means that
these may vary across time and place. Accordingly,
to categorize activities as stereotypically feminine
and masculine, we used our data from parents,
testing for sex differences in their ratings at Time 1.
Activities were classified as feminine if there were
significant differences favoring mothers and masculine if significant sex differences favored fathers.
Feminine activities included dance, handicrafts,
music, read, write, gymnastics, art, garden, swim,
play card⁄ board games, hike, go for walk, activities
with pets or animals, religious activities, and
language arts; masculine activities included sports,
build, hunt, fish, watch TV, social studies, math,
and science. Cross-time stability coefficients averaged r = .51 for feminine and r = .65 for masculine
Time spent with mothers, fathers, and male and
female peers was measured via data from the telephone interviews. We aggregated youth reports
across all activities and across all seven calls to create measures of the time in minutes youth reported
spending with mother, with father, with one or
more female peers, and with one or more male
peers. To assess interreporter reliability we calculated the correlations between the two siblings’
reports of their time in shared activities. These data
suggested that, even without training, youth
reports were correlated, rs > .56. Stability coefficients averaged r = .30 for time with mother, r = .27
for time with father, r = .39 for time with female
peers, and r = .35 for time with male peers.
Testosterone levels were based on the average of
two morning saliva samples. Samples were assayed
for salivary testosterone using a double antibody
radioimmunoassay for total serum testosterone
(Diagnostic Systems Laboratories, Webster, TX) as
modified by Granger, Schwartz, Booth, and Arentz
(1999) for use with saliva (see McHale, Shanahan,
et al., 2004; for detailed description of the assay procedure and reliability checks). For this sample, none
of the factors assessed in the daily questionnaire
(e.g., medication, menstrual stage) were linked to
testosterone level, so these were not included as
controls (McHale, Shanahan, et al., 2004). Scores for
testosterone were skewed, however, and so a squareroot transformation was used in the analyses.
Background and Control Factors
Parents provided information on family background characteristics at Time 1 (i.e., education,
work hours, occupations, and incomes). Further, at
Times 1–3 mothers rated firstborns’ pubertal development and at Times 4 and 5 youth rated their
pubertal development using the five-item Pubertal
Development Scale developed by Petersen, Crockett, Richards, and Boxer (1988).
Analysis Plan
To examine the developmental course and correlates of gendered personal social qualities and
interests, we used an MLM strategy. This approach
allowed us to take into account the nested nature of
our data (i.e., individuals over time, within-family
dependencies). Another advantage of MLM is that
it provides for the use of unbalanced data; it is not
necessary for time points to be equally spaced or
for every individual to be assessed at the same
points in time, and individuals can differ in age at
the first point of data collection. This feature of
MLM allowed us to use youth age as our index of
time despite age differences among youth at each
time of assessment. Choosing year of assessment as
the time metric, in contrast, would have obscured
the developmental patterns of interest. In the analyses, the time variable (i.e., youth’s age) was centered at age 13 (the approximate mean age across
all youth, across all times of measurement). A further strength of MLM is that it provides for missing
data (Raudenbush & Bryk, 2002; Schafer, 1997);
across all persons, variables, and time points only
about 6% of participants’ scores were missing,
meaning that our analyses provide good estimates
of the phenomena of interest.
We began by estimating three-level models, one
for each gender development measure (i.e., expressivity, instrumentality, feminine and masculine
interests) using the mixed procedure in SAS software Version 9.1. At Level 1 (within individuals
over time), we included age polynomials (i.e., linear, quadratic, and cubic terms) to describe patterns
of change in gendered qualities as well as the
time-varying covariates of interest (i.e., time with
mother, with father, with female peers, with male
Level 2 in the models (between individuals or
within families) included individual-level time
invariant characteristics that varied across siblings
(youth sex and birth order). We also tested the
cross-level interactions between these factors and
each of the time polynomials to determine whether
boys versus girls or first- versus secondborns
Development of Personality and Interests 487
differed in their patterns of change. In addition, we
included the cross-time means for each individual
on the time-varying explanatory variables (e.g.,
time with mother) so that we could document how
changes in gendered qualities were linked to changes
in the social contexts of youth activities. That is,
because the (cross-time) mean coefficients reflect all
between-individual variation, controlling for this variation limits the time-varying version of the variable
at Level 1 to explaining within individual variation
over time beyond stable individual differences
(Jacobs et al., 2002; Raudenbush & Bryk, 2002). We
also included two measures of testosterone at Level
2, testosterone at age 13 (the intercept) and rate of
change in testosterone (slope). Because we only collected saliva samples at three points in time we
could not treat testosterone as a time-varying covariate at Level 1. Instead, to obtain the testosterone
rate of change index, we first ran a series of MLMs
to estimate the growth curve of testosterone.
Including random linear and fixed quadratic terms
provided the best fitting model for the testosterone
growth curve, and we took the residual scores on
the linear slope to create the change in testosterone
index. Finally, similarly to the testosterone factors,
we included two control indices of puberty, level at
age 13 and the rate of change. We used this strategy
for two reasons: First, we needed to avoid a multicollinearity problem due to the high correlation
between pubertal development and age, r = .79. By
taking variances in the level and rate of pubertal
development, we were able to create controls that
were not related to age. Further, pubertal development data were available for all five time points for
firstborns, but only at two time points for secondborns. Given that boys and girls differ in pubertal
development timing, in preliminary models we
tested the interactions between youth sex and both
puberty level and change. None of these interactions were significant, so we excluded these interaction terms from the final models (Aiken & West,
Level 3 (between families) included a familylevel variable common to both siblings, parent
education. We included only parent education as a
control at Level 3 because, unlike other family
demographic indices (income, parent work hours),
parent education did not vary across time in this
In these analyses, time-varying indices of the
social contexts of youth time use were group-mean
centered, that is, centered at each individual’s
cross-time mean. When the (cross-time) means
were entered at Level 2, these were centered at the
sample means (Kreft, Leeuw, & Aiken, 1995). In
these analyses, sex and birth order were effect
coded ()1 = girl and firstborn, 1= boy and secondborn); in the case of significant interactions, as a
series of follow-up slope tests, we reran the same
models treating boys and secondborns as the reference groups (i.e., dummy coding instead of effect
coding to provide for clearer interpretation). To follow up significant interactions between two continuous variables, that is, between youth time use and
testosterone scores, we followed Aiken and West’s
(1991) recommendations, comparing groups at 1 SD
above and below the mean.
For each index of gender development, we begin
by describing the overall growth curves from about
age 7 to age 19 and whether and how these were
moderated by sex or birth order. Next, we report
on the links between youth’s time spent in gendered social contexts and gender development in
each domain, and we describe findings pertaining
to the role of testosterone in gender development.
As noted, we control for parent education and
youth pubertal development in these analyses.
The Development of Expressivity
The best fitting growth curve model included
random linear and fixed quadratic terms,
clinear = ).036, SE = .033, t = )1.07, ns, and
cquadratic = .048, SE = .010, t = 5.04, p < .001, respectively. The first step in the analyses revealed a
significant sex difference at the intercept, indicating
that girls reported more expressive qualities than
boys at age 13, cgender = )1.040, SE = 0.146,
t = )7.12, p < .001. A significant Sex · Quadratic
Term interaction, cinteraction = .027, SE = .010,
t = 2.78, p < .01, in combination with follow-up
tests, revealed, further, that girls showed no significant change over time, but that the quadratic pattern for boys was positive and significant,
Figure 1. Growth curves for expressivity.
488 McHale, Kim, Dotterer, Crouter, and Booth
cboys = .076, SE = .014, t = 5.41, p < .001. As Figure 1
shows, boys declined in qualities like sensitivity
and kindness from middle childhood through early
adolescence but then increased until about age 19.
Consistent with the gender intensification hypothesis were the decline in boys’ feminine qualities in
early adolescence and a significant sex difference at
age 13.
Next, we tested whether the development of
expressivity was linked to youth’s time in gendered
social contexts. These analyses revealed only one
significant effect: The cross-time average of youth’s
time with mother was positively related to youth
expressivity, cmother = .001, SE = .001, t = 2.17,
p < .05. In other words, youth who spent more time
with their mothers, on average, reported higher levels of expressivity, on average. There were no main
effects for testosterone level or rate of change, but,
as Figure 2 shows, the predicted interaction
between changes in testosterone and maternal time
was significant: Time with mother was positively
related to expressivity, but only for youth who
showed slower rates of increase in testosterone,
cinteraction = ).003, SE = .001, t = )1.94, p < .05.
Among control variables, pubertal development at
age 13 was positively and significantly linked to expressivity, clevel = .236, SE = .439, t = 2.18, p < .01,
but parent education was not.
The Development of Instrumentality
We used the same approach to study the development of stereotypically masculine qualities such
as leadership and independence. The best fitting
growth curve model included random linear,
clinear = .246, SE = .033, t = 7.37, p < .001, and fixed
quadratic terms, cquadratic = ).028, SE = .009,
t = )2.94, p < .01. The analyses revealed a significant sex difference at the intercept, indicating that
boys reported more instrumental qualities at age
13, cgender = .580, SE = .162, t = 3.59, p < .001 (see
Figure 3). There also were significant Sex · Quadratic Age Term and Birth Order · Linear Age
Term interactions, csex interaction = .026, SE = .009,
t = 2.77, p < .01, and cbirth interaction = .140, SE = .048,
t = 2.89, p < .01. Follow-up tests revealed that the
quadratic pattern for boys was positive at the trend
level, cboy quadratic = .029, SE = .017, t = 1.870, p <
.10, and the linear effect was positive and significant, cboy linear = .215, SE = .059, t = 3.63, p < .001,
indicating that boys’ instrumentality increased over
time. For girls, the quadratic effect was not significant, but the linear effect was positive and significant, cgirl linear = .270, SE = .058, t = 4.64, p < .001:
Like boys, girls showed increases in instrumentality over time. Finally, follow-ups for the birth
order interaction indicated that secondborns,
csecondborn linear = .382, SE = .067, t = 5.72, p < .001,
but not firstborns, showed significant linear
increases in instrumentality.
The second step in the analyses revealed two
significant predictors of change in instrumentality:
For both girls and boys, the cross-time averages of
time with male peers and time with female peers
were both linked to higher levels of instrumentality,
cmale peers = .003, SE = .001, t = 4.56, p < .001 and
cfemale peers = .003, SE = .001, t = 4.64, p < .001, respectively. In other words, youth who spent more
time with male peers or with female peers, on average, reported higher levels of instrumentality, on
average. As with the findings for expressivity, the
results revealed no main effects for testosterone
level or rate of change, but there was a significant
interaction between rate of change in testosterone
and youth time with fathers, cinteraction = ).004,
SE = .002, t = )2.13, p < .05: Consistent with our
prediction, the link between socialization experiences, that is, time with father, and instrumentality
was stronger for youth who showed slower rates
Figure 2. Interaction between time with mother and expressivity
by rate of change in testosterone.
Figure 3. Growth curves for instrumentality.
Development of Personality and Interests 489
of increase in testosterone (see Figure 4). Among
control variables, parental education was positively
related to instrumentality.
The Development of Feminine Activity Interests
Baseline null model tests revealed no estimable
variance at the family level (Level 3). Thus, instead
of three-level models, we report results of two-level
models for the development of feminine interests.
The overall growth curve included random linear,
fixed quadratic, and fixed cubic terms, indicating
that feminine interests declined across time for the
sample as a whole, clinear = )1.358, SE = .079, t =
)17.12, p < .001; cquadratic = .072, SE = .013, t = 5.48,
p < .001; and ccubic = .090, SE = .004, t = 2.36, p <
.05, respectively (see Figure 5). This analysis also
revealed a significant sex difference, cgender =
)2.431, SE = .247, t = )9.83, p < .001, indicating that
girls reported more feminine interests at age 13.
There was also a significant Sex · Age linear term
interaction, cinteraction = ).305, SE = .158, t = )1.93,
p < .05. Follow-up tests showed that the linear
terms were significant for both girls and boys,
though the effect for boys was stronger, suggesting
that boys’ decline was steeper than girls’,
cboys = )1.485, SE = .117, t = )12.65, p < .001, and
cgirls = )1.180, SE = .113, t = )10.48, p < .05, respectively. This analysis also revealed a significant
Quadratic · Birth Order effect, cinteraction = ).105,
SE = .035, t = )2.97, p < .01, and a significant
Cubic · Birth Order effect, cinteraction = .021,
SE = .008, t = 2.54, p < .01. Follow-up tests revealed
that the quadratic effects were significant for both
firstborns and secondborns, though stronger for
firstborns, cfirstborn = .312, SE = .054, t = 5.73,
p < .001, and csecondborn = .102, SE = .045, t = 2.26,
p < .05, respectively, and that the cubic effect was
significant for firstborns, cfirstborn = ).032, SE = .014,
t = )2.29, p < .05, but not secondborns. To clarify
this pattern, as a follow-up step, we reran this analysis, setting the intercept at age 10. Although there
was no birth order difference at age 13, at age 10
firstborns reported stronger feminine interests
than secondborns, cbirth order = )4.60, SE = .744,
t = )6.19, p < .001. Taken together these findings
suggest that youth’s interests decline over time,
somewhat more sharply for boys and firstborns as
compared to girls and secondborns, but that the
declines level off in middle adolescence; for firstborns however, there is an additional directional
change in later adolescence (the cubic effect) when
feminine interests once again decline.
The second step in the analyses revealed three
significant effects: Changes in feminine interests
were positively related to changes in time with
mother, cmother = .001, SE = .0005, t = 2.81, p < .01,
and changes in time with father, cfather = .001,
SE = .0005, t = 2.69, p < .01, but negatively related
to changes in time with female peers, cfemale
= ).001, SE = .0004, t = )2.10, p < .05. In other
words, decreases in time with mother and father
were linked to decreases in feminine interests, but
increases in time with female peers were linked to
decreases in feminine interests. No effects of testosterone were significant. Among control variables,
there was a significant positive effect for pubertal
development at age 13, cpuberty = 2.479, SE = .738,
t = 3.36, p < .001.
The Development of Masculine Activity Interests
The overall growth curve for masculine activity
included random linear, fixed quadratic, and fixed
cubic terms, clinear = ).732, SE = .052, t = )13.98,
p < .001; cquadratic = .017, SE = .009, t = 1.80, ns; and
ccubic = .009, SE = .003, t = 3.42, p < .001, respectively (see Figure 6). This analysis revealed an overall sex difference, cgender = 1.740, SE = .120,
t = 14.46, p < .001, with boys reporting more
Figure 4. Interaction between time with father and instrumentality
by rate of change in testosterone.
Figure 5. Growth curves for feminine activity interests.
490 McHale, Kim, Dotterer, Crouter, and Booth
masculine interests than girls at age 13. There also
were significant interactions between birth order
and both the linear, clinear interaction = .175, SE =
.054, t = 3.24, p < .01, and the quadratic age terms,
cquadratic interaction = ).047, SE = .021, t = )2.426,
p < .05. As was the case for feminine interests,
follow-up tests revealed that the patterns of change
for secondborns were muted relative to those of
firstborns: The linear effect was significant for
both first and secondborns, though stronger for
firstborns, cfirstborn = ).913, SE = .085, t = )10.70,
p < .001, than secondborns, csecondborn = ).562,
SE = .067, t = )8.42, p < .001, and the quadratic
effect was significant for firstborns, cfirstborn = .095,
SE = .030, t = 3.16, p < .001, but not secondborns.
To clarify these results we reran the analyses, setting the intercept at age 10: Although there was not
a birth order difference at age 13, firstborns
reported stronger masculine interests at age 10,
cbirth order = )2.26, SE = .421, t = )5.38, p < .001.
Taken together these findings suggest that firstborns’ interests start at a higher level and decline
more steeply than secondborns. Firstborns’ decline
levels off, however, by late adolescence (a time at
which we do not have data for secondborns).
In the next step, one significant effect of youth’s
time use emerged: Changes in time with father
were positively related to changes in masculine
interests, cfather = .001, SE = .0003, t = 2.91, p < .01:
As time with father decreased or increased, so too
did masculine interests. No significant effects of
testosterone emerged in these analyses, nor were
any of the controls variables significant.
Exploratory Analysis of Gender-Neutral Interests
Given the findings for feminine and masculine
interests, we conducted an additional analysis using
the same analytic approach but focused on genderneutral interests (e.g., ride bike) to determine
whether or not declines in interests were limited to
gendered activities. The results showed the same
pattern of decline over time in gender-neutral activities (results available from the first author).
We expanded on prior cross-sectional and shortterm longitudinal studies to chart the course of gender development in the domains of sex stereotypical personality qualities and interests from middle
childhood through adolescence. In addition, we
studied both social and biological factors that might
explain individual differences in youth’s developmental patterns. Our results yielded a four-part
take-home message. First, findings were consistent
with analyses that highlight the multidimensional
nature of gender: Different dimensions of gender
showed distinct developmental patterns and had
distinct correlates. Such results underscore the
importance of careful definition and operationalization of gender in future research (Ruble et al.,
2006). Second, consistent with an ecological perspective on the role of daily activities in development (Bronfenbrenner, 1979), the analyses revealed
links between the gendered social contexts of
youth’s time use and their gender development.
Most results were consistent with the hypothesis,
grounded in social learning and gender schema
theories, that time with females would be linked to
stereotypically feminine development and time
with males with stereotypically masculine development. Third, our study expanded on prior work to
examine the potential role of testosterone in gender
development in middle childhood and adolescence.
The analyses revealed two parallel moderation
effects and were consistent with the hypothesis that
more rapid increases in testosterone levels set constraints on socialization influences (Buchanan et al.,
1992). Our work also expanded on prior research to
document this effect in both girls and boys. Fourth,
our within-family comparisons of firstborns’ versus
secondborns’ gender development revealed sibling
differences on three of the four gender development measures. Most child development research is
grounded in an implicit assumption that developmental patterns will be similar for all children in a
family, but our findings highlight the significance
of children’s position in the sibling constellation.
Below, we elaborate on these conclusions and,
taking into account the limitations of this study,
highlight the implications of our findings for
understanding gender development.
Figure 6. Growth curves for masculine activity interests.
Development of Personality and Interests 491
The Development of Gendered Personality Qualities
and Interests
Our analyses of the development of gendered
personality traits revealed different patterns for
expressive versus instrumental qualities. For girls,
the findings revealed no changes over time in
expressivity but significant linear increases in
instrumentality. The pattern for girls’ instrumentality is consistent with the idea from gender schema
theory that gender role orientations become increasingly flexible across middle childhood. In contrast,
the gender intensification hypothesis holds that
children will become more stereotypical in early
adolescence, and the observed declines in boys’
expressivity were consistent with this pattern. Boys’
instrumentality was relatively stable in middle
childhood and early adolescence, but increased in
mid- to late adolescence. Our data only allowed us
to chart the development of personality qualities
until age 19, but the observed patterns suggest that
much more could be learned about gender and personality by following youth into adulthood.
These findings differ from results of an earlier,
2-year study of sex-typed personality characteristics
in which sex differences in instrumentality but not
expressivity increased between ages 11 and 13
(Galambos et al., 1990). In addition to a different
design and analytic approach, the data for that
study were collected about a decade earlier than
ours, and more recent efforts to promote achievement and self-confidence in young adolescent girls
may be responsible for the observed increases in
girls’ instrumentality in early adolescence. With
respect to expressivity, Galambos et al. (1990)
found no changes in sex differences in early adolescence. Our data, however, suggest that discerning
the nature of sex differences in expressivity
requires studying youth over a longer span of time.
Boys’ ‘‘recovery’’ of (or willingness to admit to)
qualities such as sensitivity and kindness in later
adolescence underscores the importance of studying gender development into adulthood.
Importantly, birth order effects qualified our conclusions about the development of stereotypically
masculine personality qualities: Although the linear
coefficients for both were positive, secondborns,
but not firstborns, showed significant increases in
instrumentality over time. Within the field of social
psychology, there is a large literature that has
sought to identify birth order differences in personality qualities. Findings are not consistent but have
highlighted the authority orientation of firstborns
(e.g., toward achievement, but also toward conformity). In contrast, Sulloway (1996) describes laterborns as ‘‘born to rebel,’’ given that their needs and
interests are not well served by a status quo that
proscribes power and privilege for firstborns. Secondborns’ development of the ‘‘adventurous,’’
‘‘brave,’’ and ‘‘independent’’ qualities that comprise instrumentality may be consistent with Sulloway’s conceptualization. Importantly, prior work
has not focused on the development of personality
characteristics. Our findings of no birth order differences at age 13 coupled with differences in
patterns of change suggest that birth order differences in personality are best studied in a developmental framework. For gender development
researchers, an important point is that characteristics marked as stereotypical within a gender frame
may have a different valence within another frame
(e.g., that independence and adventurousness mark
‘‘rebellion’’), and thus that gender development
may be better understood within a larger framework of socialization influences. These birth order
differences require replication, but again, they call
into question the assumption that studying one
child in a family is sufficient for understanding
how family socialization processes work.
Turning to the development of gendered interests,
our results were consistent with Jacobs et al.’s
(2002) findings of linear declines in subjective values for a range of gendered activities. In the face of
significant overall sex differences, both the girls
and boys in our sample showed the same pattern
of cross-time declines in interest in stereotypically
feminine and masculine activities (and in an exploratory step, in gender-neutral interests, as well).
These findings are consistent with Jacobs et al.’s
conclusions that youth’s subjective evaluations of
activities are grounded in an increasingly specialized focus, as ability levels, opportunities, and
resources motivate youth to make choices about the
interests and activities they will pursue. They also
are consistent with the idea that hanging out and
socializing with peers replaces involvement in constructive activities in adolescence (Larson & Verma,
Birth order also played a role in patterns of
change in gendered interests. In part these differences were due to the fact that we studied firstborns until age 19, when additional directional
changes in developmental patterns became evident
(e.g., the significant cubic effect for firstborns’ feminine interests); the findings for firstborns underscore the importance of studying gender
development into adulthood. The more pronounced
change patterns for firstborns also can be
492 McHale, Kim, Dotterer, Crouter, and Booth
attributed, however, to their higher levels of interest in both masculine and feminine activities in
middle childhood: We found birth order differences
in interests favoring firstborns at age 10 but differences at age 13 were not significant. As a period of
‘‘industry’’ (Erikson, 1959), middle childhood is a
time when children explore a range of activities
(Lareau, 2003). Although parents may have the
time and resources to encourage their first child’s
awakening interests in a broad range of activities,
limits to social and economic capital and what they
learn from experiences with their first child may
mean that parents encourage specialization more
quickly in laterborns. Secondborns may collaborate
in this process, following their older sisters’ and
brothers’ example and specializing in their interests
at a younger age. Most research on the role of the
family in gender socialization has examined family
member influences in isolation, focusing, for example, on mother–child communication or father–
child play patterns. A family systems perspective,
in contrast, highlights direct and indirect influences
across multiple subsystems in the family and
reminds us that family influences are likely to be
complex and multifaceted (Whitchurch & Constantine, 1993).
Individual Differences in the Development of Gendered
Personality Qualities and Interests
In addition to the sex and birth order differences
we have discussed, our analyses also were directed
at social and biological factors that explained individual differences in the development of gendered
personality qualities and interests. Most of our findings were consistent with a gender socialization
hypothesis, that time with females would be linked
to the development of stereotypically feminine
qualities and that time with males would be linked
to the development of stereotypically masculine
qualities. Our results also showed that social factors
were more consistently linked to gender development than were the measures of biological influences, that is, age 13 level and rate of change in
Consistent with the ecological emphasis on the
role of daily activities in development, we found
that youth’s time spent with mothers was a significant correlate of stereotypically feminine traits and
interests: The cross-time average of time with
mother was linked to the cross-time average of expressivity for youth with slower rates of change in
testosterone, and time with mother was a significant time-varying correlate of feminine interests,
meaning that as time with mother increased or
decreased, so too did feminine interests. These
findings did not emerge in our prior short-term
study, but the longitudinal scope and analytic
approach we used here provided a more powerful
lens through which to discern these associations.
Importantly, the correlational design of this study
means that we cannot draw inferences about direction of effect: Time with mother may be linked to
feminine qualities and interests because mothers
model and reinforce these qualities as a social
learning perspective holds. Consistent with a gender schema perspective, it also is possible that
offspring who see themselves as having feminine
qualities and interests choose to spend more time
with their mothers. An advantage to the analytic
approach we used is that, in the case of the timecovarying relations between youth’s interests and
maternal time, we can rule out stable third variables (e.g., family demographics, stable parental
attitudes) as explanations for observed linkages. A
direction for future research will be the use of
cross-lagged designs to illuminate temporal precedence in the links between youth’s gendered qualities and time use.
The findings for masculine traits and interests also
underscored the importance of daily activities. The
results were consistent with both social learning and
gender schema ideas in that time with father was a
significant time-varying covariate of masculine interests and time with male peers was linked to instrumentality; time with father also was also positively
related to instrumentality, but only for youth who
exhibited slower rates of increase in testosterone.
These linkages did not emerge in our prior study,
but our longitudinal scope and analytic approach
enhanced our ability to detect these effects.
Three findings were inconsistent with a gender
socialization hypothesis. First, similar to time
with male peers, the results indicated that time
with female peers was positively related to instrumentality. These results also are a reminder that
qualities defined as gendered have valence in other
domain: The agentic traits that comprise instrumentality have been linked to positive youth adjustment (Crick & Zahn-Waxler, 2003; Hoffman et al.,
2004). As such, our findings may mean that girls
and boys who are better adjusted and get along better with their peers (whether male or female) have
more instrumental traits. Two other inconsistent
findings emerged for feminine interests: Similar
to time with mother, changes in time with father
were positively related to changes in feminine
interests, and time with female peers was
Development of Personality and Interests 493
negatively related to feminine interests. As noted,
normative declines in activity interests across adolescence may reflect an increasing interest in hanging out and socializing with peers. In contrast,
many of the feminine activity interests that we
studied involve solitary and even intellectual pursuits (e.g., reading, the arts, playing musical instruments) that may be supported by parental
involvement. Thus, when youth spend more time
with peers, they may be less interested in feminine
activities. Also, it is possible that youth who have
stronger feminine interests spend less time with
peers and more time with parents.
Turning to the role of testosterone, we found no
main effects for circulating testosterone levels or
rates of increase, but two parallel interaction effects
reached significance: Time with mother was positively linked to expressive qualities and time with
father was positively related to instrumental qualities, but only for youth who showed slower rates of
increase in testosterone. These patterns are consistent with the idea that more rapid rises in testosterone set constraints on the operation of socialization
influences (Buchanan et al., 1992). Given that only
two of 16 interactions reached significance, these
findings should be viewed cautiously. On the other
hand, these effects were predicted, and as Raine
(2002) argued, the difficulty of documenting biosocial interactions means that Type II error is higher
than in other kinds of research. In combination
with our prior findings, the results suggest that the
role of testosterone in adolescent gender development may merit further study.
The overarching purpose of this study was to illuminate processes of gender development from middle childhood through adolescence. Our study’s
focus on specific domains of gender, longitudinal
scope and within-family design, detailed information on youth’s daily activities, and biomarker data
allowed for new insights into gender development
patterns and their correlates. Our focus on a local
and relatively homogeneous sample limited sources
of between-family variance and sample attrition but
also means that our results are not generalizable to
youth from families of different structures or ethnicities. Given the social construction of gender, studying the implications of cultural factors in gender
development is an important direction for research.
Finally, the trajectories of gender development that
we uncovered direct attention to early adulthood as
a time of continued change in gendered interests
and personality. Gender is central in human development across the life span, and patterns of change
and their correlates require continued investigation.
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