A cross-cultural analysis of sex differences in the behavior of children aged three through 11

Beatrice Whiting, Carolyn Pope Edwards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

220 Scopus citations


Our study suggests that (a) there are universal sex differences in the behavior of children 3–11 years of age, but the differences are not consistent nor as great as the studies of American and Western European children would suggest; (b) socialization pressure in the form of task assignment and the associated frequency of interaction with different categories of individuals—i.e., infants, adults, and peers—may well explain many of these differences; (c) aggression, perhaps especially rough and tumble play, and touching behavior seem the best candidates for biophysical genesis; (d) all of the behaviors that are characteristic of males and females seem remarkably malleable under the impact of socialization pressures, which seem to be remarkably consistent from one society to another; and (e) the difference in many of the types of behavior seems to be one of style rather than intent: i.e., seeking help (“feminine”) rather than attention (“masculine”), and justifying dominance by appealing to the rules (“feminine”) rather than straight egoistic dominance (“masculine”). Although our findings do not speak for adolescent and adult male and female behavior, they should caution the social scientists and animal ethologists who are interested in possible evolutionary and survival theories not to underestimate the effect of learning environments. These learning environments may well be responsible for the behavior frequently attributed to the innate characteristics of male and female primates as inherited by their human descendants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)171-188
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Social Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 1973
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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