There have a been a lot of questions lately asking about gender-equality scenarios.

I want to expose my 5-year-old daughter to boys and girls toys equally, but she just turned her nose up at Star Wars. What do I do?
TV shows for toddlers that don't teach bad gender and race dynamics
How should I handle a little boy who likes girls' toys?

There are more as you go further back. There are also other questions not explicitly about gender that mention gender roles in their answers.

I'm particularly interested in gender-equality, and I want to avoid, as best I can, reinforcing gender stereotypes. In order to accomplish this, it would help me to be aware of when children begin to be affected by bias.

I think that it's likely that different types of bias will begin to affect children at different stages of development. Interaction with nuclear family may influence a child much earlier than, say, the fact that you usually only see super-buff males on comic book covers or fit, airbrushed models on fashion magazine covers.

At what ages or stages of development are children able to be influenced by cultural gender roles, biases, and stereotypes in their varying forms?

If all forms begin influence at the same age, that's fine. That just means I'll have to begin being aware of them all-at-once and strive a little harder to be balance out external forces (including my own habits).

To clarify, I'm not asking about:

  • Stereotypes regarding sexuality
  • Gender identity, which is a purely internal, private sense of whether you're one gender or another.

I am asking for research-backed answers only. I think it's pivotal to use more than just anecdotes or opinions on a subject such as this. I want to avoid falling into the trap of common misconceptions, which are just as prevalent in parenting as anywhere else.

  • possible duplicate of At what age is gender identity developed?
    – Valkyrie
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 9:43
  • 2
    @Valkyrie No, it is not. That's why I specifically created two questions, and why I said I'm not asking about Gender identity (specifically because I felt some people would be confused). Gender stereotypes refer to the way society expects people of predefined genders (usually the binary of male/female) to behave/look, and how they treat people of different genders. Gender identity is "a person's private sense and subjective experience of their own gender" and has nothing to do with outside forces.
    – user11394
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 10:05
  • If you are looking for research papers, use google scholar. This question has no definite answer otherwise. Thus, it should never have been asked in this form.
    – Dariusz
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 19:55
  • This is not a parenting question. It's a psychology question. It won't make us better parents (as it is stated right now), it will only satisfy somebody's curiosity.
    – Dariusz
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 20:02
  • 3
    @Dariusz Here's the meta.
    – user11394
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 21:30

3 Answers 3


No particular age has been set in stone, but there is some evidence to suggest as early as 18 months of age (Eichstedt et al., 2002; Poulin-Dubois, 1998). However, it is quite possible the answer depends on the child's cognitive, social, language development. In fact quite a bit of literature suggests that at the very least 2 years old's are able to associate the relevant gender stereotypes to themselves and to others ( Serbin et al. 2002; Poulin-Dubois et al., 2002 ).

However, what causes these 1 1/2 year old or 2 year old children to already have preconceived ideas on gender type? Most of it can be attributed to indirect cues that were provided by parents. To illustrate that point, Gelman, Taylor, & Nguyen did a study where mothers would read picture books to their child(ren) and found that these mothers were subtlety giving cues like "Most girls don't like trucks" and so forth (2004).

Now lets address this question are cues the only source of gender typing? No, no they are not.

The first factor is the family/parents, but I already addressed that to a certain degree. However, I wanted to point out that some parents do actively reinforce gender type. I am not going reference a study for this as I am sure most people can think of at least anecdotal evidence of this statement.... just know that anecdotal evidence is "true". Furthermore, I am ignoring siblings as they tend to play a similar role to peers which is addressed later on.

Another influence on gender typing is biology. According to de Waal, all male mammalian species activity tends to be aggressive and females prefer activities that require certain amount of emotional sensitivity and both prefer to associate with same-sex individuals {this same-sex association is important, but I'll address that a little later}(1993, 2001). It is the very likely reason why a boy might like an aggressive sport like football and why a girl might like a emotionally sensitive event like a tea party, that is, their genetic disposition makes certain activities more "pleasurable" than others.

The last factors is are your peers. Your peers reinforce gender typing. An example of such a reinforcing behavior is boys and girls will actively ignore/criticize any of their peers that engage in cross gender activities (Fagot, 1984). Consequently, due to this behavior children come to believe the legitimacy of gender segregation and gender-stereotyped activities (Martin et al., 1999). Keep in mind there are cultural difference as well, but this sums up the generality pretty well.

There are some other factors such as role modes (E.G. teachers, T.V. Stars) and just the general social environment (E.G. commercials). However, these factors tend to be in my opinion not that significant. I'll go into a little more depth if there is a demand.


The most significant problem to this question is how do you measure the influence of gender stereotypes on a child who is most likely unable to communicate with you, let alone give any significant insights? In fact, if you clicked on the Poulin-Dubois 1998 link you'll notice that this article tests 18 month year old's if they can distinguish between a lady and a man which is not direct evidence. However, I think if the child is able to generally understand the concept of gender then they can be gender typed. While I have no direct evidence back that claim up I think it is accurate. Furthermore, I could easily argue that very young babies could be somewhat conditioned to certain stereotypes, but for reasons that would add another unnecessary paragraph I will excluded that argument. Feel free to disagree with either statement.

Lastly, this answer is based largely upon on some notes that I wrote a year ago in a child psychology class so if I wrote something in err let me know and I'll correct it or suggest why it is correct.

  • The details are appreciated as it helps with the larger question of how do counter the influences. You need to know what the influences are in order to fight them. Do you know of any other study that corroborates the 18 month age? It meshes with my experience, so I'm very interested in that revelation.
    – user11394
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 20:35
  • 1
    Hi, Asterisk, and welcome to the site. Very nice answer. I look forward to hearing more from you. :-) Commented May 1, 2015 at 23:03
  • Updated the content and unfortunately I dont have the time proofread this as well as I like, but I think I got the more grievous errors without introducing any new ones.
    – Asterisk
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 2:31

Short summary of Kohlberg: from the age that a child identifies its sex as boy or girl it will think:

a) I am boy/ girl

b) its good to be a boy/girl

c) its better to be a boy/girl

and it will develope its own specific gender stereotypes and copy other people in his environment. You can try to influence the child in another direction. It will be very hard.

I have asked hundreds of pre-school children about sex-role and gender stereotypes of adults like: who can drive better the car? who is better in cooking? etc.

I got the most time the answers in respect of their stereotypes and not of their real enivironmental experience.


In the 1960s, social learning theorists such as Walter Mischel and Albert Bandura emphasized the role of both direct reinforcement and modeling in shaping children's sex-role behavior and attitudes. Boys and girls learn new sex roles by observing and imitating their parents or some other person important to them of the same sex.

Read more: Sex Roles - Sex-role stereotypes, Sex-role socialization - Attitudes And Behavior, Emotional Development, Lawrence Kohlberg, and Considered - JRank Articles http://psychology.jrank.org/pages/575/Sex-Roles.html#ixzz5gYry688N

here is a younger article that gives another answer:

children that encounter opposite stereotypes seem to be less rigid: (in this research ...)


I can't stop tell you a lovely anecdote about stereotypes of one of my pupils.

He was not one of the smartest one but any way: we went swimming with the class outdoor and followed the river.

Suddenly Claudio said: Look over there, Mr. Hügli, there are pot-smokers!

I asked: How will you see that they are pot-smokers?

He: As they have long and colored hair! -

Me: and because of this they are pot-smokers?

He: But don't you see how many dogs they have?

(next Sunday I went swimming to an other little river ... there were two ladies in my age, with colored hair and two dogs! You can't imagine what they had to hear from me!)


I've no science to back this up. But please keep your mind open when considering what I write.

We are a sum of our experiences. And we start experiencing things even before we are born. Would argue, that children start being influenced by stereotypes of all the people they meet almost immediately after being born. They observe and learn the world in a way we adults will never comprehend. Everything around them influences them, even if it's as simple as them having a pink or blue teddy bear or dad getting angry with/at people with different skin colour.

A two week old may notice, that the deep low funny sounding blur is usually blue or black with a white circle above it, but the high-pitched caring voice is usually pink or green. After a few more weeks the baby may discover that the pink not-that-blurry-blur has those long funny wavy things located on the circle above the pik. And the blue blur has only short pointy things on the circle.

At nine months a little girl may notice, that she has mostly dolls and teddys, but when she visits this other baby, a boy, he has mostly cars and firetrucks. And he's dressed in blue/brown/black, while she's in orange/pink/yellow.

Sure, when the child is 18-24 MO and capable of understanding some words and even emotions, it is obvious that stereotypes can be introduced in the obvious and typical way. But I think that some stereotypes are likely to be passed even before.

And I side note: I don't think all the gender stereotypes are bad. I have no problem with girls dressed in one set of colours and boys in other. It's not inherently bad. What we parents have to remember is not to thwart our children's development. If a girl wants a firetruck instead of a new doll, there's no reason to force a choice on her. If, however, she does want another doll, and we try to force a firetruck on her, we may be fighting the gender stereotypes, but we may also be causing harm to the baby.

  • 1
    Explicitly does not answer the question as posed. There is no citation, only opinion. Since popular opinions are often at odds with facts and research, I specifically requested research-backed answers instead of opinion and anecdote answers. I also highly doubt a blue teddy bear affects newborns. I'm positive such examples affect young children, but I want to know when, and I want better evidence. I want to have an informed fact-based opinion I can use to make better parenting decisions regarding gender equality.
    – user11394
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 20:31
  • there is a lot of science behind this. There are studies of Piaget and Kohlberg about the cognitive development of children in math, physics, moral, sexual identity, gender (of course they are controversal and contested as all other theories and researches. Do you really still believe you will ever find an objective research backed answerd that will be more signigicant than this so called opinion based and very interesting answer above? Commented Feb 25, 2019 at 15:49

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