Gender essentialism in transgender and cisgender children

Selin Gülgöz, Madeleine DeMeules, Susan A. Gelman, Kristina R. Olson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Children, across cultures, show an early-emerging tendency to essentialize gender, viewing gender as inborn and predictive of stereotypical preferences. However, research has been limited to children whose own gender experience is largely consistent with the assumptions of gender essentialism. In contrast, transgender children have gender identities (and related stereotypical preferences) that differ from their sex assigned at birth, which therefore appear to challenge an essentialist view of gender. In the current study, we examined the degree to which transgender children (N = 97, 3–11 years) view a child’s sex at birth as predictive of their later gender-typed preferences. Additionally, we recruited two comparison groups: cisgender siblings of transgender participants (N = 59) and cisgender, age- and gender-matched controls (N = 90). In an adapted switched-at-birth paradigm, participants in all groups believed that a child’s sex at birth would predict their later gender-typed preferences; participants were especially likely to think so when the target character was reared in a socialization environment that aligned with the target’s own gender, rather than one where the socialization environment aligned with a different gender. Whereas cisgender participants showed a decline in essentialism with age, transgender children did not show any age-related changes in their beliefs. The current findings are the first to show that transgender and cisgender children, despite differences in gender experiences, might similarly essentialize gender. However, these findings also raise questions about how different participant groups might interpret measures differently.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0224321
JournalPloS one
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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