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Teen gender identity reflects cultural and ethnic differences

Youths feel the pressure to conform to traditional gender roles, and the extent to which they experience this pressure directly affects their well-being. Researchers explored how the development of gender identity varied among French teens from different ethnicities and cultures, and closely examined the adolescents’ feelings on the subject.

Adam J. Hoffman is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Michigan who coauthored the study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Our study-one of the first to examine these issues longitudinally and outside of the United States-shows that boys experience greater pressure than girls to conform to gender expectations, which most likely places nonconforming adolescent boys at higher risk than girls for psychological distress,”explained Hoffman.

The research team surveyed French adolescents over four years, starting in the sixth grade and following up with them each year until ninth grade. Surveys were collected from 570 European French students and 534 North African French students. All the European French participants were born in France, while the North African French students were from Algeria, Morocco, or Tunisia, with 78 percent born in France.

The teens were asked to report on how typical they felt of their gender and on the pressure they felt from parents, peers, or themselves to conform to traditional roles.

In the sixth grade, girls in both groups reported lower levels of feeling typical for their gender, and also reported feeling less pressure to conform than boys. Over the course of four years, all of the teens except North African French boys reported a decrease in how much they felt typical for their gender.

Furthermore, girls in both groups reported feeling less pressure to conform to gender norms over the years they were surveyed, while North African French boys reported feeling an increase in pressure to conform to traditional roles. European French boys reported no change in this category.

“Cultural differences in gender norms provide North African French boys less freedom to deviate from traditional gender roles and norms than that experienced by European French boys,” explained co-author Isabelle Regner.

“The greater pressure to conform to gender roles that North African French boys feel may be a response to contrasting messages about social status they are exposed to-one from their ethnic and cultural groups that says masculinity has greater power and prestige, the other from the broader social context that says their ethnic and cultural groups have lower status and are discriminated against.”

The authors of the study, which is published in the journal Child Development, say there is a need for parents and teachers to be aware of the variance in traditional gender roles among youths of different cultures.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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