Eagly's Social Role Theory of Gender Differences: Definition & Overview

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  • 0:01 Gender & Play
  • 0:31 Eagly's Social Role Theory
  • 3:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

What accounts for the differences between males and females? Alice Eagly's social role theory states that cultural and social norms create distinctions between male and female roles. This lesson will explore this theory and will end with a quiz to test your knowledge.

Gender & Play

Why do most little girls prefer to play with dolls while the majority of little boys enjoy playing with cars and trucks? Why is it that little girls seem to focus more on pretend play and young boys usually enjoy physical play? These differences may be related to gender. There has been a great deal of research on the topic of gender differences. The theory put forth by Alice Eagly is called Eagly's social role theory of gender differences.

Eagly's Social Role Theory

Alice Eagly is a social psychologist who has spent a large portion of her career studying the differences between men and women. Eagly's social role theory of gender differences explains that the inherent physical differences between men and women led to a division of labor in society. More specifically, men are usually physically larger and stronger than women. Conversely, females tend to be smaller in size and not as physically strong as men. Eagly's theory cites these innate differences as causative factors in the development of gender roles for men and women.

Gender roles are behaviors that are common for one's gender. Simply stated, gender roles are societal and cultural differences between what behaviors we expect to see from men and from women. Historically, it was expected that women would serve as primary caregivers for their children, while men served as breadwinners for the family. Eagly's theory states that these expectations arose out of the natural differences between male and females. These social and cultural expectations for men and women are also called gender stereotypes.

Social and cultural expectations, or gender stereotypes, contribute to the notion that there are male-specific careers and female-specific careers. For example, the fields of nursing and teaching usually have more women than men. Construction and engineering are male-dominated industries. Eagly's theory puts forth the idea that these gender specific careers evolved from inborn proficiencies in these areas. Women are better nurturers so they thrive in the nursing industry. Males are physically stronger so naturally make better construction workers.

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