Life Style

How siblings influence children’s gender construction

Does having brothers and sisters of the opposite sex allow children to play less gendered games? This is what researchers from INED and Inserm wanted to know, involved in the major “French longitudinal study from childhood” (Elfe), which follows more than 18,000 children from birth to adulthood. This survey, the first results of which were presented on Thursday, October 6, focused in particular on the role and composition of siblings in the development of gender identity. This role remains very little studied, underline the researchers, “while it is likely to come into play early in the production of the genre”.

At 2 years old, cultural practices are already very gendered, regardless of social class. On a daily basis, girls overwhelmingly play with dolls (81.6%), draw pictures (72.8%) and stuffed animals (63.3%), while boys prefer small cars (89.3 %), ball games (75.7%) or stacking games (61%).

Young men and women play “atypical” games more often

The gap between girls and boys is particularly large (60 points) when it comes to games with dolls and toy cars. But these gaps differ according to the rank in the siblings and their composition. For example, younger boys and girls play games more often “atypical” with the elders, all the more so when there are children of the opposite sex. A younger sibling of girls has “three times more likely” to play with dolls that an only child or an eldest, and a youngest with older brothers has “twice as likely” to play cars, notes the study.

“These practices reflect the evolution of society and therefore of the family, towards greater equality between men and women.emphasizes the sociologist Christine Castelain Meunier (1). In the past, it was very taboo for a boy to play with dolls. The girls had access to more games, even if they weren’t allowed to take an interest in games that were too masculine. »

Girls and elders closest in age have more influence on practices

Today, toys are still very gendered, but siblings play more easily together. “The Ripple Effect” is however different according to the age and the sex of the children. “Girls and seniors closest in age seem to have more influence on play practices of cadets,” observe the researchers.

However, this influence is limited to the most marked activities. For puzzles or drawing, often preferred by girls, it is above all the parents who play a role in the development of the child. The “school” nature of these activities (them) leads, especially fathers, to invest their eldest son more in it, and in doing so to reduce the gaps with girls. »

And the researchers conclude: “Gender production is not only linked to the composition of siblings, it is above all a matter of parental involvement and therefore of educational style. »


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