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Kohlbergs Theory

Kohlberg (1966) claimed that as a childs cognition matures so does their understanding of gender. Kohlberg states that children go through three stages in the development of their gender:

1. Gender Identity (2-3 years)


At this stage, children make their judgements of gender based upon the external features that differentiate male from female (e.g. type of clothes or hair length). Children can notice these differences from 15 months old. By the age of 2, they have learned to label these different categories as male or female and by the age of 3 they can apply labels to describe themselves as girl or boy. They do not yet fully understand what it means to be male or female and that gender is a fixed trait.

2. Gender stability (3-7 years)


Now children come to realise that gender remains the same throughout life. We know this because researchers have asked this age group of children questions such as When you were a baby were you a boy or a girl? and When you grow up will you be a mummy or a daddy? On achieving gender stability a child can answer these questions correctly, demonstrating their understanding of gender as a fixed trait within themselves.

3.

Gender consistency (7-12 years)

Children remains confused about the gender of others, regarding the change of an external feature such as dress or hair length,

until they acquire gender consistency. They no longer judge an


individuals gender by external features and they understand that everyones gender remains constant throughout life.

Evaluation of Kohlbergs Theory

Thompson (1975): Children aged between 2 and 3 were tested on their ability to be able to apply gender labels correctly to themselves and others. Children who were only just 2 could identify different sexes correctly but struggled to label their own gender. Oldest children in sample could apply gender labels correctly and recognise the category of gender they belonged to. These findings are consistent with Kohlbergs gender identity stage and show the cognitive maturation that takes place as the child ages. Slaby and Frey (1975): Researchers used interviews to test the stage of development reached by each child and also split-screen method to access their attention to same-sex models. Findings showed that children as young as five may have already acquired gender consistency. Boys who have reached the consistency stage spend more time attending to same sex models than girls do at the same stage. This study provides support for the sequential order of Kohlbergs stages of development but raises questions regarding the age at which children reach the consistency stage and the differences between boys and girls when attending to same sex models.

Thompson - children as young as 2 could categorise certain items as belonging to males or females - showing understanding of sex-role stereotyping long before they achieved gender consistency. Yet Kohlberg claims that only when consistency is achieved and children understand the true difference between male and female will they acquire gender stereotypes study refutes the age limitations set by Kohlbergs gender theory.

Discuss Kohlbergs theory of gender development (24 marker)


Kohlberg (1966) claimed that as a childs cognition matures so does their understanding of gender. Specifically their gender development occurs in three stages; Gender identity, gender stability and gender consistency. Gender identity occurs between the ages of two and three, and this is when children make their judgements of gender based upon external features (such as hair length). They have learned to label different categories as male or female and by the age of three they can apply labels to describe themselves as a girl or boy. However, Kohlberg argued that they do not yet fully understand what it means to be male or female and that gender is a fixed trait. Research to support Kohlbergs theory on the gender identity stage was conducted by Thompson (1975) who tested children aged between two and three on their ability to be able to apply gender labels correctly to themselves and others. Findings showed that children who were only just 2 could identify different sexes correctly but struggled to label their own gender. However, the oldest children in the sample could apply gender labels correctly and recognise the category of gender that they belonged to. These findings are consistent with Kohlbergs gender identity stage and provide evidence for the cognitive maturation that takes place as the child ages. In addition, further research by Thompson also found that children as young as two could categorise certain items as belonging to males or females, thus showing an understanding of sex-role stereotyping long before they achieved gender consistency. However, Kohlberg claims that only when consistency is achieved and children understand the true difference between male and female will they acquire gender stereotypes. Therefore Thompsons second study refutes the age limitations set by Kohlbergs gender theory. Kohlbergs theory also explains that between the ages 3 and 7, children can correctly label their own gender and come to realise that their gender remains constant throughout life; this suggests that children of this age understand that gender is a fixed trait within themselves, but cannot yet recognise gender as a fixed trait for others.

Research to support Kohlbergs gender stability stage was conducted by Slaby and Frey who asked young children questions such as When you were a baby were you a boy or a girl? and When you grow up will you be a mummy or a daddy? The answers given by children showed that they did not recognise that these traits were stable over time until they were 3 or 4 years old, as Kohlberg had predicted.
Kohlbergs theory also suggests that between the ages 7 and 12, a child acquires gender consistency. This means that they no longer judge an individuals gender by external features (such as hair length) and they understand that everyones gender remains constant throughout life. Research by Slaby and Frey provides support for the sequential order of Kohlbergs stages, however it raises questions about the age at which gender consistency is acquired. The researchers used interviews to test the stage of development reached by each child participant aged between 2 and 5 years old. They found that 97% had achieved gender identity, 75% had achieved gender stability and 50% had achieved gender consistency. This refutes Kohlbergs theory of gender consistency age, as this study suggests that children can acquire gender consistency before the ages 7 to 12.