Gender Changes Over Time: Agency and Communion

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Ingroup vs. Outgroup: Definition and Explanation

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:05 Agency vs. Communion
  • 1:08 Social Role Theory
  • 2:02 Dynamic Stereotypes
  • 3:49 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed
Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Gender stereotypes often rely on the ways people define themselves. In this lesson, we'll look at two ways of defining oneself. We'll also study why gender differences exist and how they change over time.

Agency vs. Communion

How do you define yourself? Are you more focused on the things that you do as an individual or on the relationships you have with other people? Are you independent, or do you prefer to associate yourself with others? In psychology, agency is the tendency to define yourself by what makes you an individual. People high in agency are focused on their individual accomplishments and what separates them from others.

Women have a tendency toward communion, while men have a tendency toward agency.

In contrast, communion is the tendency to focus on other people and your relationship to them. People who are high in communion are focused on the groups they belong to and their relationships to others. One interesting thing that has been found in psychology is the existence of gender differences in agency and communion. As might be expected by gender stereotypes, men have more of a tendency towards agency and women towards communion.

Note that these are generalities and stereotypes. So, while there is a difference in the genders, it is not absolute; there are some women who value agency and some men who value communion.

Social Role Theory

Why is there a difference in genders when it comes to agency and communion? It could be because for years, men have been defined by what they do out in the workforce, where they must distinguish themselves from other workers. In contrast, women have been defined by what they do in the home, where their relationships with family and community members are necessary for success.

Because success has been defined differently for men and women, social expectations are handed down from generation to generation. As a result, men are taught to value agency more and women are taught to value communion more.

Social role theory says that the historical division of labor for men and women has caused men to be more agency-focused and women to be more communion-focused. In short, this theory explains why men focus more on what makes them individual and separate from others, and women focus on relationships and what they have in common with others.

The historical division of labor has led men to be more agency-focused.
Men Defined By Work

Dynamic Stereotypes

In order to test social role theory, psychologists Amanda B. Diekman and Alice H. Eagly set up a series of experiments starting in the late 1990s and continuing through the current day. Their studies looked at how men and women from the past and present were perceived, specifically in regards to their roles and personality traits.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account