Age and Gender Differences in Children's Self- and Task Perceptions during Elementary School


  • Portions of this paper were presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Boston, April 1990. The research reported here was supported by grant HD17553 from NICHD. We would like to thank the principals, teachers, and students in the participating school districts for allowing us to work with them. We would also like to thank Amy Arbreton, Carol Freedman-Doan, Kwang Suk Yoon, Janis Jacobs, and Toby Jayaratne for their work on this project.

Reprint requests should be addressed to: Jacquelynne Eccles, 5271 Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48106-1248.


We examined the development of children's self- and task perceptions during the elementary school years. 865 first-, second-, and fourth-grade children (ages 7–10) completed questionnaires assessing their perceptions of competence in, and valuing of, activities in several activity domains (math, reading, sports, and instrumental music). Factor analyses showed that even the first graders had differentiated self-beliefs for the various activities. These analyses also indicated that children's competence beliefs and subjective task values formed distinct factors. Analyses assessing age and gender differences in children's beliefs showed that for all the activities except sports, younger children's (particularly the first graders) perceptions of competence and subjective task values were more positive than the beliefs of the older children. Boys had more positive competence beliefs and values than did girls for sport activities, and more positive competence beliefs for mathematics. Girls had more positive competence beliefs and values than did boys for reading and music activities.