Outline and Evaluate Kohlberg's Theory of Gender Development (24)

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  • Created by: TFoulg
  • Created on: 09-01-15 13:59

Outline and Evaluate Kohlberg’s theory of Gender Development


Kohlberg’s gender theory is massively influenced by early child psychologist Jean Piaget and his ideas about cognitive development. Piaget argued that children generally lack internal logic and are therefore unable to discern the different between appearance and reality. For example, Piaget proposed that children only demonstrate conservation skills at the age of 7 and onwards. Conservation is the ability to recognise that changes in appearance do not change an object; which is shown in his famous water/beaker experiment.

Kohlberg argues that children go through three stages of development and only after this they can show conservation and learn appropriate gender roles and show them. He also believes that children play a more active role in their cognitive development; and less passive like retrospective theories have suggested. He proposed a three stage theory which details how children acquire understanding of gender.

The first stage which Kohlberg proposed is that of gender labelling which occurs between the ages of 1-3. In this stage, children have the ability to recognise their own gender, female or male. However, this is only based on appearance. For example, a boy with long hair may be perceived to be female, despite the fact that this person was earlier perceived to in fact be a male. This is a lack of conservational skill.

The second and penultimate stage is called gender stability, which occurs between the ages of 3-5. At this stage, children begin to realise that gender is retained for life, however still rely on superficial clues to determine gender, e.g. hair length. Consequently, children will still confused about cross gendered behaviours, e.g. the example before of boys with long hair being perceived as a girl.

The third and final stage is that of gender constancy. At this stage, children have developed the conservational skills like Piaget proposed; being able to tell that changes in appearance do not change an object. As a result, children can understand that gender is indeed consistent over time. Superficial clues are also no longer as big of an influence in terms of distinguishing someone’s gender.

Kohlberg also states that only after all three stages have been completed and thus the child has cognitively matured, that children can begin to learn their values and behaviours from safe sex models. He coined this as ‘self-socialisation’ in contrast to the automatic socialisation stated in the social learning theory which proposes that children have a more passive role in cognitive development.


There is support for the gender labelling stage which was conducted by Rabban. Rabban found that by the age of 3 most children demonstrated gender identity, however they did not have an understanding of what…


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