Gender Differences in Children’s Reasoning About and Motivation to Pursue Leadership Roles

Andrea C. Vial, Andrei Cimpian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Investigating how children think about leadership may inform theories of the gender gaps in leadership among adults. In three studies (N = 492 U.S. children ages 5–10 years), we investigated (1) whether children expect those who claim leadership roles within a peer group to elicit social support and cooperation from the group, (2) children’s own interest and self-efficacy in such roles, and (3) the influence of contextual cues (e.g., how leader roles are described) on children’s reasoning about and interest in leadership. We also explored differences based on children’s race/ethnicity. In Study 1, girls expected lower social support for child leaders than boys did. However, in Study 2, we found no evidence that girls are less interested in leadership. In addition, interest in leadership increased with age among White girls but decreased among White boys and girls and boys of color. In Study 3, we tested whether interest in a leader role is boosted (particularly among girls) by describing the role as helpful for the group and by providing gender-balanced peer role models. Regardless of gender, children in the helpful or “communal” (vs. “agentic”) leader condition were more interested in the leader role, anticipated stronger social support and cooperation from others, and reported higher self-efficacy as leaders. The gender composition of role models had little impact. This research underscores the early development of children’s attitudes toward leadership and highlights the potential value in early interventions to nurture children’s leadership ambitions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)42-65
Number of pages24
JournalSex Roles
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024


  • Children
  • Communal goals
  • Gender
  • Leadership
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Role models

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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