Characteristics of Preschool Gender Enforcers and Peers Who Associate with Them

Sonya Xinyue Xiao, Rachel E. Cook, Carol Martin, Matthew G. Nielson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Children who try to exclude others due to their gender can be considered as “gender enforcers.” Using multiple methods (observations, interviews) and informants (children, teachers, teacher aides), we investigated the prevalence of gender enforcement, the characteristics of gender enforcers, and potential associations of exposure to gender enforcers. Participants were 98 (Mage = 49.47 months, SD = 11.40; 52% boys) preschoolers from a southwestern city in the United States. Results showed that both girls and boys engage in gender-enforcing behavior. Further, findings suggest that aggression and biased gender-related beliefs are associated with gender-enforcing behavior. Children who spent more time (over months) with enforcers were observed to play more with same-gender peers and to show more biased gender cognitions than were children who spent less time with enforcers. The study extends our understanding of how gender norms are enforced in early childhood, and it provides insights that may help to identify young gender enforcers. These findings have potential to inform future research and practice related to gender-based aggression in childhood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)671-685
Number of pages15
JournalSex Roles
Issue number11-12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019


  • Gender beliefs
  • Gender norms
  • Peer pressure
  • Peer relations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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