Effects of Paternal Absence on Sex Role Development

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Brittney Hodges
Psychology 1101
Mr. Marks
March 14, 2011
Effects of Paternal Absence on Sex Role Development
Approximately twenty-six percent of children in America are being raised by a single parent. That accounts for 21.8 million kids under the age of 21 (Wolf, 2010). Eighty-four percent of these single parents are mothers. How does not having a father figure in the house all the time affect a child? Research has shown that being raised by a single parent can severely affect a child’s sex role on many different levels - sex role orientation (the self-evaluation of maleness or femaleness), sex role preference (the individual’s preferential set towards symbols of a sex role that is already socially defined), and sex role adoption (how masculine or feminine an individual seems to others). (Biller, 1969) How do you tell if a young child is a boy or a girl? If the baby is dressed in pink, it is usually a girl. If the baby is dressed in blue you can confidently assume the child is a boy. Boys and girls will always be treated differently. What toy do you give a little girl? The most common answer would usually be a Barbie doll. What would you give a little boy? Most people would probably say an action figure, or a matchbox car. These are classic example of sex typing. A mother will treat her child differently than a father would. A mother thinks of her children as just that, her children. She doesn’t treat her son differently than she would her daughter. A father definitely treats his son completely differently than he would his daughter. His son, aka “my boy” is treated in an aggressive manor, where his “princess” is encouraged to be a feminine sweetheart. In a two parent household children learn different things from each parent, and learn from how their parents interrelate. What happens when there aren’t two parents to look at? How can a boy grow up to be a man and a father if there is no father figure to learn from? Research shows that paternal absence can slow a child’s sex role development.

There are many different factors that go into how a child develops. Paternal absence seems to have a major effect on a child’s sex role development, especially if the absence occurs at a young age. Over-dependency on the mother is evidence of a father being absent during the preschool years of a child’s life (Biller, 1969). Fathers are known to be role models for masculinity and independence. When the father figure is not around, it is quite easy for the nurturing mother to come in and baby the child. Maternal encouragement also has a large impact on whether or not paternal absence has an effect. A father’s absence does not have to play a huge role in a child’s life, but it often does. If a mother encourages her son to be aggressive and masculine he may develop to be the “tough guy” a father could have raised him to be. There have been many experiments done in order to study the effects of being raised by a single parent. In one experiment (Biller, 1969), researchers matched father-absent and father-present subjects as closely as possible. There were 34 five year old Caucasian boys and their mothers, 17 father-absent and 17 father-present. The matched boys were within 4 months of age of each other, one socioeconomic class level and 10 IQ points on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test. They were identical in sibling distribution (same number and sex and whether the sibling was older or younger than the subject). Children were seen individually for sex role orientation, preference and IQ assessments, teacher’s ratings were used to estimate sex role adoption. The mothers of the boys were sent questionnaires, assessing father availability and maternal encouragement of masculine behavior. The boys’ masculinity was measured using several different techniques. Researchers measured sex role orientation using Brown’s IT scale. The boys were told that IT was a child playing a make believe game, and that IT could be...
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