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Causes of gender inequality: differential socialization

Causes of gender inequality: differential socialization

November 27, 2021

Socialization based on sex causes gender inequality . This socialization occurs even before birth: from the moment in which pregnancy identifies whether the baby will be a boy or a girl, a long process of socialization begins which results in the differentiation of people as men or women.

From the perspective of gender it is possible to understand that the application of the sex-gender system in the socialization process builds a set of beliefs at the social level in which each gender is assigned certain behaviors.

The difference between sex and gender

The roles of each gender are given different importance according to a hierarchy of values, positioning women in inferiority. Thus stereotypes arise that contribute to the maintenance of inequalities between men and women.


The concept "sex" refers exclusively to physical characteristics that differentiates people biologically as men and women. However, the concept "gender" is a social construction based on the assignment of different roles according to sex.

This means that gender is used to describe those socially constructed characteristics differentially for women and men. The social differences that we find in today's society between men and women are the result of learning the sex-gender system.

The sex-gender system: a theory about inequality

The sex-gender system is a theoretical model that explains how gender socialization occurs. This theory identifies the natural with the socially constructed and establishes that sex in itself is not the cause of inequality between women and men, but their socially constructed gender position.


This system produces a set of learned and internalized social norms that structure the behaviors of both sexes and condition the perception and interpretation of social reality. Consequently, they generate a differential socialization.

Biological inequalities translate into social inequalities , political and economic policies between women and men that generate sexism, with women being the most disadvantaged in this process.

From birth, people learn the behaviors, attitudes, roles and activities that correspond to the characteristics determined by belonging to one sex or the other, thus developing gender identity and gender roles.

Gender roles and identity construction

Gender identity is the assignment to one sex or the other, that is, identification as a man or woman. From this gender identification, the development of a specific differentiation process in which gender roles are learned is triggered.


Gender roles imply assuming social representations as their own about masculinity and femininity through the various agents of socialization: the family, the educational system, the media, the culture, the community, institutions, etc.

This socialization is maintained throughout life. Through interactions with other people, the values, attitudes, expectations and behaviors of each society are learned and internalized in order to function in it.

The differential socialization between women and men

The theory of the differential socialization of Walker and Barton (1983) explains how people, in their process of initiation of social and cultural life and from the influence of socializing agents, acquire gender differential identities that entail attitudes, behaviors, moral codes and stereotyped norms of the behavior assigned to each gender.

The key to the process of differential socialization is the congruence between messages issued by all socialization agents . This facilitates the assumption and internalization by each individual to the point of considering that it is something of their own, of their personality, producing that they think and behave in accordance. In this way, children will assume the traditional masculine and feminine roles as their own from childhood.

Male roles: work and ambition

The socialization of children in the traditional male role focuses on producing and progressing in the public sphere. They are expected to achieve success in this area as they are prepared and educated so that their self-esteem and gratification come from the public sphere.

Men are repressed in the affective sphere enhancing freedoms, talent and diverse ambitions that facilitate self-promotion. They receive a lot of encouragement and little protection, which guides them towards action, the external, the macrosocial and the independence.Men are taught the value of work as a priority and defining obligation of their condition.

Female roles: family and home

In the case of girls, the process of socialization in the traditional female role focuses on their preparation for reproduction and their permanence in the private sphere. It is expected that their successes come from this area, which will shape both their source of gratification and their self-esteem.

In the opposite way to men, they repress their liberties, talents and ambitions that facilitate self-promotion, promoting the affective sphere. They receive little encouragement and enough protection, which guides them towards intimacy, the interior, the microsocial, the dependence and the value of work is not inculcated as a priority obligation nor defining their condition.

All these values ​​and norms are called gender mandates , that is, those implicit social norms that do not reflect what men and women are but how they should or should be and what is expected of each one of them.

  • Related article: "Patriarchy: 7 keys to understanding cultural machismo"

Socializing agents: how gender roles are reinforced

The process of differential socialization according to gender occurs through different reinforcements and models. Differential reinforcement occurs when men and women are rewarded or punished for different behaviors , interests or expression of emotions.

Much of this learning occurs in the first years of life through modeling, that is, learning through the observation of other people's behaviors and the consequences that such behavior has for the model.

This normative and informative influence is produced through socialization agents. The main socializing agents are:

1. The family

The first models that the child will have are the members of his family and have an important role in the first stage of life as transmitters of behaviors, values, etc., through modeling and emotional learning. Several studies indicate that the most important role of the family lies in the regulation of activities typified by sex.

2. The education system

The education system is the social structure that best reflects dominant beliefs and values . Its influence on the maintenance of differences occurs through the hidden curriculum and the processes of social interaction that occur in the education system.

There are four aspects of differential socialization that contribute to the hidden curriculum: the distribution of men and women in the education system, which acts as a role model for students; educational material and textbooks, which tend to reproduce gender stereotypes; school organization and practices, which reproduce the choices of traditional gender activities; and the teachers' expectations and attitudes, which affect the expectations that students have of themselves.

Regarding the processes of social interaction, differences in interaction in the classroom, differences in attention by teachers, in the distribution of play spaces, etc. have also been observed.

3. The media

It is the informative influence that through selective regulation presents stereotyped cultural models based on ideals of men and women that do not correspond with reality. They influence the perception we have of both men and women in general and of ourselves.

To achieve the elimination of inequalities based on gender, it is necessary to understand that the origin of inequality is based on differential socialization and that socialization is a self-justifying process; that is, it produces that men and women behave differently and develop their activity in different areas.

Differential socialization helps confirm the belief that the sexes are different and to justify the need to continue perpetuating socially constructed differences.

Since the key to continuing to maintain this differential process is the congruence between the messages that are issued by the socialization agents, it would be useful to use them as a way to change and promote congruent messages that eliminate gender-based inequalities through them. .

  • Related article: "Albert Bandura's Theory of Social Learning"

Bibliographic references:

  • Bosch, E., Ferrer, V., & Alzamora, A. (2006). The Patriarchal Labyrinth: Theoretical-Practical Reflections on Violence Against Women. Barcelona: Anthropos, Editorial of Man.
  • Cabral, B., & García, C. (2001). Undoing the knot of gender and violence. Other looks, 1 (1), pp.60-76. Retrieved from: //www.redalyc.org/pdf/183/18310108.pdf
  • Walker, S., Barton, L. (1983). Gender, class and education. New York: The Falmer Press.

What people miss about the gender wage gap (November 2021).


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