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Kohlberg Theory

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Kohlberg Theory

Gender, as most would argue, is primarily a social construct that evolves with the society in which we live. What is deemed appropriate for one gender the corresponding gender tends to adopt, resulting in a variety of behaviours and stereotypes. If the environment a person grows up in labels a certain activity as a ‘boy thing’ or a ‘girl thing’, does that affect the development of their gender identity?

Kohlberg’s cognitive developmental theory of gender attempts to tackle the idea of gender development.

Kohlberg Theory Gender Identity Development male and female gender balancing on a scale StudySmarterIcon depicting male and female gender balancing on a scale, Flaticon

What is Kohlberg’s cognitive developmental theory of gender?

Kohlberg’s 1966 theory focuses on how children develop cognitive structures to conceptualise and understand their gender and the gender of people around them.

Kohlberg’s stages of gender development

The stages of gender development, according to Kohlberg, are as follows:

  1. Gender labelling the labelling stage occurs between the ages of two and three and is where children begin to identify the gender expressions of themselves and the people around them. They can tell others their gender and identify those of others from their outward appearances (e.g., someone with long hair is a girl). Their perception of gender is highly fluid at this stage; they don’t see gender as a constant and believe it changes based on superficial properties such as hair length or clothing. A child at this stage could incorrectly identify a boy with long hair as a girl.
  2. Gender stability the stability stage occurs around age four when children begin to recognise how gender typically stays constant as they age. They understand how girls will grow into women and boys will become men. However, their concept of gender still isn’t consistent. They believe a boy might turn into a girl if he does female activities.
  3. Gender consistency the consistency stage occurs between six and seven years of age and is when gender becomes a more fixed concept for the child. They realise gender is consistent through time and different situations at this stage. External changes such as hair growth and clothing choices do not change people’s gender identity.

Kohlberg’s theory stages and Piaget’s stages

Kohlberg’s stages of gender development line up with Piaget’s stages of cognitive development, in particular the idea of conservation within the concrete operational stage, which ties in with gender consistency.

Conservation

Conservation is a child’s cognitive ability to understand that even when the appearances of a person or object change, the basic properties do not change.

If you take two equal glasses of water and pour one into a taller, thinner glass and ask the child which glass has more water, a child who has acquired the skill of conservation could understand that both glasses still hold an equal amount of water.

Conservation regarding gender

Concerning the child’s gender development, their conservation skill allows them to understand that a person’s gender does not change based on external properties, such as the activities they participate in or the way they dress. Kohlberg and Piaget found that this conservation skill became present around ages six to seven. Both of these researchers agree on the same age in which conservation develops adds validity to the theory.

Evaluating Kohlberg’s theory of gender development

We must analyse the strengths and weaknesses of Kohlberg’s argument.

Descriptive vs explanatory

Kohlberg’s theory is criticised for its lack of explanation of how and why these gender stages occur. Although it can be argued Piaget’s idea of conservation can help explain the consistency stage, the descriptions of the other two stages do not include how they come about and why they occur at all. This criticism suggests further research is required to understand this.

Strengths of the theory

Let’s consider the strengths of this theory.

Thompson (1975)

In this study, researchers tested a group of children aged two and three on their ability to identify their gender and the gender of others correctly. Thompson found that the older children could correctly identify genders more often than the younger children, suggesting that this skill develops between these two age groups. This finding supports the gender labelling stage Kohlberg describes in his theory.

Slaby and Frey (1975)

In this study, researchers tested children aged two to five on their level of gender development. They found that children with higher levels of gender consistency were more likely to seek out same-sex role models. This study supports Kohlberg’s stages as he also states older children will show higher gender stability and consistency.

Munroe et al. (1984)

In this study, the researchers found children across multiple cultures showed signs of progressing through the stages Kohlberg described, which supports the theory and suggest the theory to be universal.

Weaknesses of the theory

And finally, let’s consider the weaknesses of this theory.

Bussey & Bandura (1992)

In this study, the researchers found that children as young as 4 showed signs of gender consistency, which challenges the order in which Kohlberg has described his cognitive stages of gender development.

O’Brien et al. (1983)

In this study, researchers found that children choose gender-specific toys below the age of six, suggesting gender role behaviours are present before achieving gender consistency. This finding contradicts Kohlberg’s theory.


Kohlberg’s (1966) Theory - Key takeaways

  • Kohlberg’s 1966 theory focuses on how children develop cognitive structures to conceptualise and understand their gender and the gender of others around them.
  • The gender labelling stage occurs between the ages of two and three and is where children begin to identify the gender expressions of themselves and the people around them.
  • The gender stability stage occurs around age four and is when children begin to recognise how, in the case of cisgender people, gender stays constant as we age. However, their concept of gender still isn’t consistent. For example, they believe that a boy might turn into a girl if he does female activities.
  • The gender consistency stage occurs between six and seven years of age and is when gender becomes a more fixed concept for the child. They understand that gender consistent through time and different situations.
  • Kohlberg’s stages of gender development line up with Piaget’s stages of cognitive development, in particular the idea of conservation within the concrete operational stage.
  • Kohlberg’s theory is criticised for its lack of explanation of how and why these gender stages occur. Although one can argue that Piaget’s idea of conservation can help explain the consistency stage, the descriptions of the other two stages do not include how they come about and why they occur.

Frequently Asked Questions about Kohlberg Theory

Gender labelling, gender stability, and gender consistency.

He believed cognitive development, much like moral reasoning, develops in stages. 

Constancy is the child’s ability to adapt and take on their gender identity as a permanent aspect of themselves. It occurs in three stages: gender labelling, gender stability, and gender consistency. 

An example of Kohlberg’s theory is his gender development theory, where he suggests gender development stages. Children develop cognitive structures to conceptualise their gender and the gender of others around them.

Final Kohlberg Theory Quiz

Question

when was kohlberg's theory created?

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Answer

1966.0

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Question

what psychological approach does Kohlberg use to understand gender development?

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Answer

cognitive

Show question

Question

when does the labelling stage occur

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Answer

2-3 years

Show question

Question

what occurs during the labelling stage?

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Answer

the labelling stage is where is where children begin to identify the gender expressions of themselves and the people around them. For example, they are able to tell others their gender and identify those of others from their outward appearances.

Show question

Question

when does the stability stage occur?

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Answer

4 years old

Show question

Question

what occurs during the stability stage?

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Answer

the stability stage is when children begin to recognize how, in the case of cisgender people, gender stays constant as we age. This means that they understand how girls will grow into women and boys will grow to become men.

Show question

Question

when does the consistency stage occur?

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Answer

6-7 years old

Show question

Question

what occurs during the consistency stage?

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Answer

the consistency stage is when gender becomes a more fixed concept for the child. At this stage, they realize that external changes such as hair growth and clothing choices do not change people's gender identity.

Show question

Question

what other cognitive theory does kohlberg's theory align with?

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Answer

piaget's stages of development (1954)

Show question

Question

what is conservation as a cognitve skill?

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Answer

Conservation is a child's cognitive ability to understand that even when the appearances of a person or object change, more stable properties such as mass and quantity do not change.

Show question

Question

what is an example of conservation?

Show answer

Answer

if you take two equal glasses of water and pour one into a taller, thinner glass and ask the child which glass has more water, a child who has acquired the skill of conservation would be able to understand that both glasses still hold an equal amount of water.

Show question

Question

what is conservation in terms of gender?

Show answer

Answer

In relation to the child's gender development, their skill in conservation allows them to also understand that a person's gender does not change based on external properties such as the activities they participate in or the way that they dress.

Show question

Question

what is a critcism of kohlbergs theory?

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Answer

Kohlberg's theory is criticized for its lack or explanation as to how and why these gender stages occur.

Show question

Question

What was the results of thompsons 1975 study?

Show answer

Answer

In this study, researchers tested a group of children between the ages of 2 and 3 years old on their ability to correctly identify their own gender and the gender of others. Thompson found that the older children were able to correctly identify genders more often than the younger children, suggesting that this skill develops between these two age groups.

Show question

Question

Is gender a social construct?

Show answer

Answer

To some extent. Gender is largely governed by what society deems appropriate for each gender. 

Show question

Question

What is Kohlberg’s theory of gender development?

Show answer

Answer

Kohlberg’s 1966 theory focuses on how children develop cognitive structures to conceptualise and understand their gender and the gender of others around them.

Show question

Question

What are the three stages of gender development according to Kohlberg?

Show answer

Answer

  1. Gender labelling.
  2. Gender stability.
  3. Gender consistency.

Show question

Question

What is gender labelling in Kohlberg’s stages of gender development?

Show answer

Answer

The labelling stage occurs between the ages of two and three and is where children begin to identify the gender expressions of themselves and the people around them. They can tell others their gender and identify those of others from their outward appearances (e.g., someone with long hair is a girl). Their perception of gender is highly fluid at this stage; they don’t see gender as a constant and believe it changes based on superficial properties such as hair length or clothing.

Show question

Question

What is gender stability in Kohlberg’s stages of gender development? 

Show answer

Answer

The stability stage occurs around age four when children begin to recognise how gender typically stays constant as they age. They understand how girls will grow into women and boys will become men.

Show question

Question

What is gender consistency in Kohlberg’s stages of gender development?  

Show answer

Answer

The consistency stage occurs between six and seven years of age and is when gender becomes a more fixed concept for the child. They realise gender is consistent through time and different situations at this stage. External changes such as hair growth and clothing choices do not change people’s gender identity.

Show question

Question

Kohlberg’s stages of gender development line up with Piaget’s stages of cognitive development. True or false?

Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

What is conservation?

Show answer

Answer

Conservation is a child’s cognitive ability to understand that even when the appearances of a person or object change, the basic properties do not change.

Show question

Question

How does conservation relate to gender?

Show answer

Answer

Concerning the child’s gender development, their conservation skill allows them to understand that a person’s gender does not change based on external properties, such as the activities they participate in or the way they dress. Kohlberg and Piaget both found that this conservation skill became present around ages six and seven.

Show question

Question

Is Kohlberg’s theory criticised for its lack of explanation or descriptiveness?

Show answer

Answer

It is criticised for its lack of explanation as to how and why these gender stages occur. 

Show question

Question

What did Thompson (1975) find in their study? Is it a strength or weakness of Kohlberg’s theory?

Show answer

Answer

Thompson’s finding support Kohlberg's theory. In this study, researchers tested a group of children aged two and three on their ability to identify their gender and the gender of others correctly. Thompson found that the older children could correctly identify genders more often than the younger children, suggesting that this skill develops between these two age groups. This finding supports the gender labelling stage Kohlberg describes in his theory.

Show question

Question

What did Slaby and Frey (1975) find in their study?

Show answer

Answer

In this study, researchers tested children aged two to five on their level of gender development. They found that children with higher levels of gender consistency were more likely to seek out same-sex role models. This study supports Kohlberg’s stages as he also states older children will show higher gender stability and consistency.

Show question

Question

What did Bussey and Bandura (1992) find in their study?

Show answer

Answer

In this study, the researchers found that children as young as four showed signs of gender consistency, which challenges the order in which Kohlberg had described his cognitive stages of gender development.

Show question

Question

What did O’Brien et al. (1983) find in their study?

Show answer

Answer

In this study, researchers found that children choose gender-specific toys below the age of six, suggesting gender role behaviours are present before achieving gender consistency. This finding contradicts Kohlberg’s theory.

Show question

Question

What did Munroe et al. (1984) find in their study?

Show answer

Answer

In this study, the researchers found children across multiple cultures showed signs of progressing through the stages Kohlberg described, which supports the theory and suggest the theory to be universal.

Show question

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