Recently, I've been seeing videos and news that say that gender identity is formed much earlier than commonly believed, with respect to gender identity disorders or being transgender. Such information has also been included in certain answers on this site.

However, it doesn't appear to have been explicitly asked here.

At what age or stage of development does a child's gender identity form?

To clarify the term, here's the first paragraph from the Wikipedia article linked to above.

Gender identity is a person's private sense and subjective experience of their own gender. This is generally described as one's private sense of being a man or a woman, consisting primarily of the acceptance of membership into a category of people: male or female. All societies have a set of gender categories that can serve as the basis of the formation of a social identity in relation to other members of society. In most societies, there is a basic division between gender attributes assigned to males and females. In all societies, however, some individuals do not identify with some (or all) of the aspects of gender that are assigned to their biological sex.

I'm not asking about:

I am looking for research-backed answers only. Since what I perceive to be commonly-held beliefs (or concepts that aren't often thought about) don't match up with some of the medical opinions I've read, I would like evidence to help turn my loose ideas into strong understanding.

  • What is 'earlier than originally thought?'. The wiki article linked states starting around 3/4 and concluding at 6, and there are a couple of linked references from 1995, 1997 and 2005. (None of the references have full text online)
    – Ida
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 19:26
  • @Ida I don't know! I've watched some recent videos about transgender children, and the comments/reviews about them always seem surprised that the kids have clear ideas that they're different inside. But, I think I can reword that part to make it more clear. I didn't mean to imply "originally thought, by science", but rather "what people think is the way it is".
    – user11394
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 19:29
  • 1
    I personally think that those surprises are because people in general are not familiar with transgender issues, and gender identity is not something a lay person think about when develops. It looks like research has known a while it is quite early, but common perception is just picking up? I think this is an interesting question though, and would be nice to see some current research here!
    – Ida
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 19:33
  • @Ida I agree. It's also not something I have thought about before seeing those videos. Unfortunately, I don't have the time to research it right now myself (finals and newborn on the way).
    – user11394
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 19:39
  • It solidified for my children when they were 3. Commented May 9, 2015 at 5:01

1 Answer 1


The short and incomplete answer: between as young as two or possibly younger, and as late as late teenage years/early adulthood.

From perusing "transgender identity formation" and other queries on google scholar, it's clear that there is no one conclusive answer, partly because we are still defining the terms of "identity" and "gender", and also because

"The field of lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) studies is characterized by competing paradigms expressed in various ways: nature versus nurture, biology versus environment, and essentialism versus social constructionism"

  • from Shifting Sands or Solid Foundation? Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Identity Formation, by Michele J. Eliason ad Robert Schope.


A lot of research uses the concept of "milestone events" or "milestone experiences" at different stages of development as a way to map the construction of sexual identity - for example: the recollection of a moment of awareness of sexuality, the articulation of that awareness, the conscious thoughts relating to sexual desire, actual physical events of various nature, etc.

Wether you define such and such event as of importance and which label you attach to it will impact on what you consider was part of the "construction" of "identity".


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