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The Early Development of Gender Differences

The Early Development of Gender Differences

The purpose of this review is to summarize the

current evidence about the role of biological factors in the development of human gender over the life course. Rather than accept the distinction between biological sex and cultural gender, we employ the term gender very broadly to include both sex differences them selves and the cultural and biological processes that shape them. At the risk of over-reaching, we address between-sex differences, related within-sex variation, and broader features of

human social systems such as patriarchy. Our review begins with biological theory about gender and its application to the evolution of human sex differentiation, followed by a discussion of the developmental course of human sex differences and the various

biological and social gendering processes. As such, we also consider research from many

disciplines, including tentative consideration of sociocultural studies conducted from a

humanistic perspective. One important topic that we unfortunately leave out is sexuality.

BIOLOGICAL THEORIES ABOUT HUMAN GENDER Biological theory about gender (even if that term is not always used) refers to the exis tence, in sexually reproducing species, of two distinct reproductive strategies called parental investment and mating effort, which have been elaborated from Darwin’s description of sexual selection. Parental investment encom

passes activities that are cosdy to parents but direcdy contribute to the growth or survival of offspring (Trivers 1972). For some species, this investment consists almost entirely of the

initial cytoplasm contained in the gametes, with

no further support provided by parents, but mammals have a number of additional parental functions including lactation. Parental invest ment is, in principle, common to both sexual and asexual reproduction. However, finding a mate is only relevant to sexual reproduction. In some species, finding a mate may involve travel

over long distances, displays of health or beauty,

84 Mclntyre Edwards

physical conflict with others who are seeking mates, or coercion of the potential mates them selves (Bateman 1948, Clutton-Brock & Parker

1992, Dewsbury 1982). For reasons that are not

fully understood (Kokko et al. 2006, Wade & Shuster 2002), parental investment activities of

many kinds are often, but not always, enacted by

one physical form, which is also often the form

with larger gametes, called female, and mating activities by another physical form, often with smaller, more motile gametes, called male.

In most mammals, virtually all parental in vestment is done by females and all mating ef fort by males, resulting in more notable sex differences than in other taxa (Clutton-Brock

1989, Orians 1969). The few exceptions are in species in which roles may be partially mixed and the sexes have less notable differences, and

which more often have mating systems charac terized as monogamous (Jarman 1983, Plavcan

2001). The primate order includes a relatively large number of monogamous species, often characterized by some level of male parental investment (Fuentes 1998). The characteriza tion of patterns of human parental investment and mating effort has been the subject of debate

among evolutionary anthropologists (Hawkes et al. 1991, 2001; Hill & Kaplan 1993; Kaplan et al. 2000), partly because of the substantial variation among even hunter-gatherer societies in foraging and marriage systems (Wobst 1978).

Geary (2002, 2006) has suggested that evolved human psychological sex differences in

clude {a) adaptations for child care in women and interpersonal dominance striving in men, both of which should be largely primitive evolutionarily in that similar sex differences are present even in nonprimate mammals, (b) adaptations for coalitional aggression in men, which might be homologous with chim panzees (Wrangham 1999), and (c) adaptations supporting the sexual division of labor, with par

ticular focus on hunting. The latter two do mains can be considered relatively more derived as they would have evolved later.

Feminine psychological adaptations for parental care have been linked to the psy chometric construct of empathy, and reduced

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empathy in men has been linked, in turn, to lower thresholds for aggression (Baron-Cohen 2002, Campbell 2006). Although dominance striving has been studied using a variety of tech

niques, it has not yet been closely linked with, or developed as, a particular psychometric con struct (Burgoon et al. 1998). Weak associations with narcissism, sensation seeking, instrumen tal motivations, and externalizing behavior are likely, and there may be a developmental link between low empathy and dominance striving, making femininity-masculinity at least partly unidimensional (Campbell 2006, Mclntyre & Hooven 2009). Theorists have proposed that the primitive sex differences in parental care and interpersonal dominance striving should be reduced in humans owing to relatively low levels of polygyny and high levels of male parental investment (Geary 2002).

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