Is Gender More Important and Meaningful Than Race? An Analysis of Racial and Gender Identity Among Black, White, and Mixed-Race Children

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Abstract

Objectives: Social categories shape children’s lives in subtle and powerful ways. Although research has assessed children’s knowledge of social groups, most prominently race and gender, few studies have examined children’s understanding of their own multiple social identities and how they intersect. This paper explores how children evaluate the importance and meaning of their racial and gender identities, and variation in these evaluations based on the child’s own age, gender, and race. Method: Participants were 222 Black, White, and Mixed-Race children (girls: n = 136; Mage = 9.94 years). Data were gathered in schools via 1-on-1 semistructured interviews. Analyses focused on specific measures of the importance and meaning of racial and gender identity for children. Results: We found that: (a) children rate gender as a more important identity than race; (b) the meanings children ascribe to gender identity emphasized inequality and group difference whereas the meaning of race emphasized physical appearance and humanism/equality; and (c) children’s assessments of importance and meaning varied as a function of child race and gender, but not age. Conclusion: The findings extend research on young children’s social identity development and the role of culture and context in children’s emerging racial and gender identities. Implications for identity theory and development and intergroup relations are discussed.

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