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Observed Gender Differences in African American Mother-Child Relationships and Child Behavior


  • Department of Psychology, University of California, Riverside, 900 University Ave., Riverside, CA 92521.

  • Psychology Department, University of California, Berkeley, 3210 Tolman Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720-1650.

  • Center for the Study of Black Youth in Context, University of Michigan School of Education, 610 E. University Ave., Rm. 1323, Ann Arbor, MI 48109.

  • Human Development and Social Policy, Northwestern University, 2120 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208.

Program of Human Development and Social Policy, Northwestern University, 2120 Campus Drive Evanston, IL 60208 (


African American mother-child dyads (N = 99) were observed interacting on a collaborative puzzle exercise. Raters blind to the purpose of the study rated the dyads on several mother and child behaviors. Mothers of daughters were rated as more empathetic, encouraging, warm, and accepting and less negative than mothers of sons. Male children were more challenging and less happy, relaxed, and engaged. Mediation analyses found that the differences in mother-child relationships explained the gender differences in child behavior. These patterns were consistent across different child age groups and after controlling for family socioeconomic status. It was concluded that many of the gender disparities may be reduced with empirically informed and culturally sensitive parent training interventions that teach parents the necessity of being warm and loving as well as encouraging both male and female children to excel.