Gender Development . , , & . New York : Psychology Press , 2008 . 536 pp., $69.95 (hardcover) ISBN: 9780805841701 .
Ever since the groundbreaking The Development of Sex Differences (1966) by Eleanor Maccoby aged beyond its usefulness, students and researchers have needed a comprehensive, well-written, and informative current account of gender development research and theory. This excellent book is it. Chapters are rich with detailed and clear accounts of research that will be useful to experienced scientists as well as to advanced undergraduate and, more likely, graduate students. The book's key features include comprehensiveness of research and theory and high readability. Although the three authors did not equally contribute to every chapter, their clearly explained editorial procedure has lead to a book that, as a whole, reads smoothly without the choppiness often intrinsic to a multi-authored volume.
This book contains a fairly traditional set of chapters. Each chapter opens with a quotation, ranging from fiction to Freud, and often also includes at least one illustrative anecdote, such as that from Chapter 1 from which the title of this review is taken. Often chapter sections are titled with questions that draw in the reader, such as, “Are gender roles desirable for children?” and “What makes someone a boy or girl, man or woman?” Usually, important points that I would want to include in course material were up front, such as “doing vs. having gender” and the informal, null, and hidden curriculums of schools. Many chapters include helpful tables that clearly summarize sex and gender differences (or lack thereof) in terms of effect size, such as differences between boys and girls in cognitive skills and gender differences in social behaviors; thus, students should gain from occasional recaps throughout the text of the meaning of d. The authors also include interesting details about topics that are not typically part of undergraduate or graduate psychology of gender textbooks, such as sex differences in finger length and masculine and feminine movement styles, as well as those more familiar, such as the glossary. Also helpful, especially when research results appear contradictory, are the summaries and conclusions at the end of major chapter sections, as well as chapter summaries.
Some readers may disagree with the book's stress on differences between the sexes but at least Blakemore, Berenbaum, and Liben clearly state this emphasis, while acknowledging that there are many similarities. They frequently remind readers that individual differences are larger than those due to gender and discuss, when relevant, the effects of social class and family background. However, results from North American studies are emphasized, and cross-cultural comparisons are sporadic. Because it is often unclear if that absence is due to lack of research or of space, the book would have benefited by the authors indicating those topics for which cross-cultural research would be beneficial but is lacking.
It was somewhat surprising that the concept of emerging adulthood was not used to conceptualize the gender development of young people ages 18 to 25 in the United States and in other industrialized societies. The field is young but has begun to take shape as a distinct area of scholarship (Arnett, 2000). In particular, Chapter 11 (“The Peer Group as an Agent of Gender Development”), which discusses dating and romantic relationships of late adolescents, skips the post–high school and young adult years to address adult romantic and marital relationships. I would have liked to have seen more information about the process of becoming partners, as well as adolescents’ and emerging adults’ perceptions of, and experiences with, sex.
Other criticisms are minor. For example, it is unclear why the discussion of “what it means to say there is a sex or gender difference,” of alpha and beta biases, and of basic statistical terms was placed in Chapter 4 (“Motor Development and Cognition”) rather than at the outset. Discussion of adolescent self-mutilation, more common among girls, is absent from Chapter 5 (“Personality and Social Behaviors”), an important omission because prevalence seems to be increasing (Williams & Bydalek, 2007). Lastly, the index could be expanded and reconstructed. It was difficult to locate certain topics, such as higher education and media use, although I eventually located brief mentions of these topics within the text.
Although it is often rather effortless to criticize a reference work for what it has left out or given slim summary, this excellent text afforded a challenge. Gender Development provides well-balanced coverage of the essentials and even of some extras while retaining a relatively user-friendly size. The well-written and interesting chapters cohere together well, but also can stand alone, an important point for both psychology of gender instructors who need to pick and choose rather than fit the whole book into the semester and for researchers who want to expand their understanding of a specific unfamiliar topic.