The repeated failure to design and appropriately target policies and interventions which address the needs of rural peoples in Africa suggests that something may be wrong with our understanding of the way that these peoples live their lives. Perspectives which focus on intra-household processes, and on gender issues in particular, represent useful advances in the way that the social and economic lives of Africa's rural peoples are conceptualized. However, this article questions the value of adopting development planning, policy and project approaches based on the rigid identification of `gender roles'. By reference to field research undertaken in northern Ghana, the paper aims to demonstrate that other social constructs, such as marital status and seniority, may be as important as gender in determining the roles and status of individuals in African rural societies. The article concludes by highlighting a number of practical implications of this finding in terms of the structuring of development-oriented research and the targeting of policy and interventions.