Psychology Gender and Self
Sylvia Beyer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0141


In social psychology, the self as an area of serious empirical inquiry dates back only about thirty to forty years. Significant social psychological research efforts on gender date back approximately forty to fifty years, marked by the publication of the landmark Maccoby and Jacklin 1974 book on sex differences. Social psychological research on the nexus between self and gender began in earnest in the 1980s, accelerating thereafter. Even twenty years ago few social psychology textbooks included a chapter on the self or on gender. The first textbooks to discuss the self often presented gender in the same chapter, revealing the implicit assumption that self and gender are intricately linked. Most social psychology textbooks now do cover the self, and some also devote a chapter to gender in response to the highly accelerated number of publications on the subjects in the last twenty years. To point the reader to the most up-to-date research on gender and the self from a social psychological perspective, most of the readings cited date back fewer than ten years, save for the inclusion of a few important and influential older publications. The emphasis is squarely on empirical, rather than purely theoretical or philosophical, work. The reviewed literature is international in scope, including research conducted in a multitude of countries. Problematic inconsistencies in terminology abound. Researchers often use terms such as self-concept, self-construal, self-esteem, self-worth, self-efficacy, or self-perception synonymously or do not clearly differentiate among these highly interrelated terms. The reader should be aware that many of the articles presented here discuss research on multiple concepts and with various foci (e.g., gender, race, age, socioeconomic status, culture). For both of these reasons, the reader is advised to consult multiple headings. Internal cross-references are intended to help in this process. Gender and the self is a field that is evolving quickly, with “hot” topics that have engendered a plethora of research. Many of these popular topics have important real-world applications. As is generally the case for relatively new fields of inquiry, despite the large amount of published empirical work, there is sparse theoretical development around the intersection of self and gender (at least in an overarching and integrative rather than highly specific way). An authoritative work of this nature has yet to be published, but as the field matures, it is only a matter of time that greater theoretical and empirical synthesis of the literatures on the self on the one hand and gender on the other hand will follow. Unless otherwise indicated research participants were American.

General Overviews and Classics

Few good general overviews of empirical work on self and gender exist. The best sources of work in the field can be found in the journal literature and in edited books. Alcoff 2006 is more a philosophical analysis than a psychological treatise. Cross and Madson 1997, a review and theoretical model of self and gender, is a classic. This oft-cited article offers the best synthesis of published research available at the time. Eagly, et al. 2012 provides both a concise historical overview and reflection on the current state of research on gender. Gardner and Gabriel 2004 summarizes and integrates research on Culture, gender, and the self. The chapter focuses mostly on the constructs of interdependence versus independence. Gilligan 1982, a popular book decrying psychology’s male-centered views, is a classic. Hollander, et al. 2011, in its second edition, is a good introduction to the topic from a psychological perspective. The field still awaits a more recent review of the extant literature on gender and the self. A few reviews do exist, but their focus is on narrower topics, which can be found in the appropriate subsections.

  • Alcoff, Linda M. 2006. Visible identities: Race, gender, and the self. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/0195137345.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    This book was written from a feminist, philosophical rather than an empirical, psychological perspective. As such, it might not be data-driven enough for some readers. However, for those seeking a broader, philosophical understanding of social identity in general and gender and self in particular, this book provides a good introduction.

  • Cross, Susan E., and Laura Madson. 1997. Models of the self: Self-construals and gender. Psychological Bulletin 122.1: 5–37.

    DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.122.1.5E-mail Citation »

    A classic article expanding on the model of interdependent and independent self-construals in collectivist versus individualistic cultures of Hazel R. Markus and Shinobu Kitayama (see “Culture and the Self: Implications for Cognition, Emotion, and Motivation,” Psychological Review 98.2 (1991): 224–253). The authors present their own model emphasizing that women’s self-construals are more interdependent and men’s more independent. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Eagly, Alice H., Asia Eaton, Suzanna M. Rose, Stephanie Riger, and Maureen C. McHugh. 2012. Feminism and psychology: Analysis of a half-century of research on women and gender. American Psychologist 67.3: 211–230.

    DOI: 10.1037/a0027260E-mail Citation »

    This in-depth article chronicles the history of research on gender, providing the reader with a concise and insightful overview. It also charts the increase in psychological research on gender and the impact of feminism on theorizing and research. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Gardner, Wendy L., and Shira Gabriel. 2004. Gender differences in relational and collective interdependence: Implications for self-views, social behavior, and subjective well-being. In The psychology of gender. 2d ed. Edited by Alice H. Eagly, A. E. Beall, and Robert J. Sternberg, 169–191. New York: Guilford.

    E-mail Citation »

    This chapter examines the interrelations among interdependent self-construal, gender, and culture. The concept of interdependence is expanded to include relational and collective forms.

  • Gilligan, Carol. 1982. In a different voice: Psychological theory and women’s development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    This book is a classic that has been called revolutionary, but it has also received its fair share of criticism. It postulates that psychological research has been highly androcentric, ignoring the female experience and even devaluing it. In particular, Gilligan criticizes the work of Lawrence Kohlberg on moral development, which classified men as operating, on average, at a higher level of moral reasoning than women.

  • Hollander, Jocelyn A., Daniel G. Renfrow, and Judith A. Howard. 2011. Gendered situations, gendered selves: A gender lens on social psychology. 2d ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

    E-mail Citation »

    This book, in its second edition, provides an updated introduction and discussion of social psychological topics relevant to gender and the self. Chapter 5 on symbolic interactionism (pp. 119–154), in particular, is helpful to the general reader interested in an accessible introduction to gender and the self.

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