The Acquisition of Gender Labels in Infancy: Implications for Gender-Typed Play

Kristina M. Zosuls, Diane N. Ruble, Catherine S. Tamis-LeMonda, Patrick E. Shrout, Marc H. Bornstein, Faith K. Greulich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Two aspects of children's early gender development-the spontaneous production of gender labels and gender-typed play-were examined longitudinally in a sample of 82 children. Survival analysis, a statistical technique well suited to questions involving developmental transitions, was used to investigate the timing of the onset of children's gender labeling as based on mothers' biweekly telephone interviews regarding their children's language from 9 through 21 months. Videotapes of children's play both alone and with mother during home visits at 17 and 21 months were independently analyzed for play with gender-stereotyped and gender-neutral toys. Finally, the relation between gender labeling and gender-typed play was examined. Children transitioned to using gender labels at approximately 19 months, on average. Although girls and boys showed similar patterns in the development of gender labeling, girls began labeling significantly earlier than boys. Modest sex differences in play were present at 17 months and increased at 21 months. Gender labeling predicted increases in gender-typed play, suggesting that knowledge of gender categories might influence gender typing before the age of 2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)688-701
Number of pages14
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2009


  • gender development
  • language development
  • play
  • self-socialization
  • sex differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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