Gender Roles & Gender Norms: Definition & Examples | United Way NCA (2023)

Gender norms are deeply ingrained in our society and can significantly impact individuals, particularly children. Restrictive gender norms often limit children’s potential and opportunities, affect their self-esteem and mental health, and shape their relationships with peers.

Gender norms can be particularly detrimental to those living in poverty, as well as the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) population, as gender norms perpetuate cycles of inequality and limit access to resources and opportunities. For instance, according to the 2023 ALICE Reports, single mothers in the United States are more likely to live in poverty due to gender discrimination and limited access to affordable childcare. We must challenge harmful gender norms to create a more equitable and inclusive world for future generations.

What Are Gender Norms?

Gender norms are societal expectations and rules regarding how men and women should behave, express themselves and interact with others according to their gender. Media, socialization and culture contribute to the development of gender norms and they differ across time and place.

Gender socialization is one of the primary ways gender norms affect children. Gender socialization refers to how children learn the appropriate behavior, appearance and attitudes for their gender. For example, boys learn to be assertive, competitive and independent, while girls are encouraged to be nurturing, emotional and compliant. These gendered messages can shape children’s self-concept, beliefs and expectations about themselves and others.

Research suggests that adherence to gender norms can negatively influence a child’s mental health, social development and academic performance.

For instance, boys who feel pressured to conform to traditional masculine standards may be less likely to seek help for emotional problems or engage in prosocial behaviors. On the other hand, girls who internalize restrictive feminine norms may experience lower self-esteem and limited leadership opportunities.

Examples of Gender Norms in Society

Gender norms are pervasive in society and are identifiable in various aspects of our lives, including media, education and family. Here are some examples of gender norms in each of these areas:


  • Many TV shows and movies feature predominantly male protagonists who are strong, dominant and aggressive while portraying female characters as emotional, dependent and sexualized.
  • Commercials and advertisements often use gendered stereotypes to sell products, such as associating men with sports and outdoor activities, and women with beauty and domesticity.
  • In video games, male characters are heroic and violent, while female characters are hypersexualized and serve as objects of male desire.


  • Teachers may inadvertently reinforce gender norms by calling on boys more often, praising girls for being quiet and compliant or discouraging boys from communicating their feelings.
  • Textbooks and other reading materials often portray men as inventors and leaders, while women are absent or assume passive roles.
  • Sports programs in schools often prioritize male athleticism and show less attention to girls’ teams.


  • Parents may have separate expectations and rules for their sons and daughters, such as encouraging boys to pursue careers in STEM fields and girls to prioritize raising a family and nurturing relationships.
  • Gendered household chores are typical, such as girls being responsible for cooking and cleaning while boys do yard work and repairs.
  • Children may bully their siblings who do not conform to gender norms, such as boys who like dolls or girls who prefer sports.

These are just a few examples of how gender norms operate in society and can shape our beliefs and behaviors. Recognizing and challenging these norms can help us create a more equitable and inclusive world for everyone.

How Gender Norms Affect Children

Gender norms can significantly impact a child’s development, affecting his or her self-esteem and opportunities for growth. Restrictive gender norms often discourage children from pursuing interests that are “inappropriate” for their gender, limiting their potential and opportunities for exploration.

For example, girls may feel discouraged from pursuing careers in STEM fields or leadership positions, while boys face ridicule for expressing interest in traditionally feminine activities like dancing or cooking. The pressure to conform to gender norms can also negatively influence children’s mental health, leading to anxiety and depression. If boys feel that they cannot communicate their emotions or seek help, they may begin to feel stressed and isolated. Girls who feel the need to prioritize appearance and social status may experience eating disorders or body dissatisfaction.

Children who do not conform to gender norms may experience lower self-esteem and negative self-concept, as they are made to feel like they don’t fit in or are “abnormal.” Boys perceived as weak or feminine may face bullying and social exclusion, while girls who are not conventionally feminine may feel pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty standards.

Gender norms can also affect a child’s relationships with their peers, as they may face pressure to conform to societal expectations. Additionally, these norms can influence children’s future career choices and opportunities, as they may face gender inequity or bias in traditionally gendered fields. For example, girls may be discouraged from pursuing careers in politics or law enforcement, while boys may face stigma for choosing caregiving professions like nursing or teaching.

Gender Roles

Gender roles are the social and cultural expectations for how people should behave according to their assigned gender. These roles shape the behaviors, attitudes and responsibilities considered appropriate for men and women.

Gender roles evolve over time but still trend toward traditional and stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity. Gender roles can limit and restrict people’s choices and prospects based on their gender, perpetuating gender inequality.

Gender Stereotypes

Gender stereotypes are beliefs or assumptions about characteristics, traits, behaviors and roles of people based on their gender. These stereotypes are created and reinforced by gender norms and can lead to biased judgments and discrimination against individuals who do not conform to them. Gender stereotypes can be positive and negative, but they tend to fit rigid ideas of masculinity and femininity.

How to Break Gender Norms

Breaking down gender norms can be difficult, but it is essential for creating a more inclusive and fair society that supports children’s well-being and growth. Here are some strategies for challenging gender norms:


Parents can challenge gender norms by avoiding stereotypes and encouraging children to pursue their interests and passions, regardless of gender. For example, instead of relegating activities and toys according to gender norms, parents can provide a wide range of things to do without limiting them based on gender stereotypes.

Parents should also foster an environment that encourages open communication and allow their children to express themselves in their preferred way without judging or criticizing them. By being mindful of their own biases and challenging them, parents can create a home for their children that encourages them to express themselves emotionally, regardless of gender.


Educators play a critical role in contesting gender norms and promoting inclusion and diversity in the classroom. Creating an inclusive and equitable learning space can help students feel valued and supported, regardless of gender identity or expression. Teachers should avoid using gendered language or stereotypes in the classroom. Instead, educators should strive to create opportunities for all students to participate in all activities and subjects.

One way to create an inclusive learning space is by introducing diverse books and resources representing all gender identities and expressions. Teachers can also encourage students to explore their interests and pursue non-traditional paths, breaking away from gender stereotypes that limit potential and opportunities. Additionally, educators can provide opportunities for open discussions on gender and identity and promote respectful communication and understanding among students.


The media we consume plays a significant role in shaping our perceptions and beliefs about gender, making it essential for creators to develop diverse and inclusive representations of gender in their work. By avoiding harmful stereotypes and tropes that reinforce gender norms, media creators can take significant steps toward promoting gender equality. For instance, instead of relying on traditional expectations, creators can develop characters that challenge these norms, allowing viewers to see beyond the confines of rigid gender categories.

To create authentic and respectful representations of gender, media creators must work collaboratively with experts and members of marginalized communities. Consulting with these individuals can help creators further understand the problems regarding gender, which can inform their work and promote inclusivity. Furthermore, providing a positive representation of nonbinary and gender nonconforming individuals can help to reduce the discrimination they struggle with.

Creating a Gender-Equal World

Creating a gender-equal world is essential for the well-being and development of all children. We can create a more equitable society where everyone will thrive if we unite to break down restrictive gender norms and promote inclusivity. Each one of us has a part to play in the movement toward gender equality.

One way to take action is by challenging gender norms in our own lives, whether it’s by breaking down gender stereotypes in the media we consume, encouraging children to pursue their interests and dreams, or creating an inclusive place to learn in schools. We can also support organizations that work toward gender equality, such as the ALICE Lives Here initiative, which seeks to support families living in poverty and break down the barriers to upward mobility.

It’s important to remember that taking action to create a gender-equal world is a collective effort, and it requires ongoing work and education. By staying informed, raising awareness and actively working toward gender equality, we can create a better future for all children.


What is an example of gender roles and norms? ›

Gender norms are neither static nor universal and change over time. Some norms are positive, for example, the norm that children shouldn't smoke. Other norms lead to inequality. Household chores, for example, are much more likely to be performed by girls than boys.

What is the difference between gender roles and norms? ›

The easiest way to distinguish between gender norms and gender roles, is to understand that gender roles flow from gender norms. In other words, the values a society has with respect to how a 'male' and 'female' should look and behave, shapes the roles of each gender.

What are four examples of gender norms? ›

  • Girls should play with dolls and boys should play with trucks.
  • Boys should be directed to like blue and green; girls toward red and pink.
  • Boys should not wear dresses or other clothes typically associated with "girl's clothes"

What are the 3 major types of gender roles? ›

Gender role ideology falls into three types: traditional, transitional, and egalitarian.

What is gender norm? ›

Gender norms are ideas about how women and men should be and act. Internalised early in life, gender norms can establish a life cycle of gender socialisation and stereotyping.

What are gender norms of society? ›

Gender norms are social norms defining acceptable and appropriate actions for women and men in a given group or society. They are embedded in formal and informal institutions, nested in the mind, and produced and reproduced through social interaction.

Why are gender roles important? ›

Gender roles are cultural and personal. They determine how males and females should think, speak, dress, and interact within the context of society. Learning plays a role in this process of shaping gender roles. These gender schemas are deeply embedded cognitive frameworks regarding what defines masculine and feminine.

What is a gender role quizlet? ›

Gender Role. A gender role, also known as a sex role, is a social role encompassing a range of behaviors and attitudes that are generally considered acceptable, appropriate, or desirable for people based on their actual or perceived sex or sexuality.

What is the definition of gender and examples? ›

Gender refers to the characteristics of women, men, girls and boys that are socially constructed. This includes norms, behaviours and roles associated with being a woman, man, girl or boy, as well as relationships with each other. As a social construct, gender varies from society to society and can change over time.

What are some examples of gender norms that are harmful to society? ›

Find out ten of these social norms that drive violence against women and girls.
  • Women must be submissive to male family members in all aspects of her life. ...
  • Men are expected to exercise coercive control. ...
  • Men have the right to discipline women for 'incorrect' behavior. ...
  • Women cannot deny their male partner sex.

What are positive gender norms? ›

Positive gender socialization refers to processes that challenge and change harmful norms in order to achieve gender-equitable outcomes. Gender stereotypes are generalizations about the characteristics of a group of people based on gender.

What are gender norms attitudes? ›

“Gender role attitudes” refer to views held by individuals regarding the roles men and women should play in society. It is a term most often used with respect to the distinction between paid and unpaid work.

What are 3 examples of gender roles for men? ›

Men are seen as suited for leadership roles such as bosses, political figures, and community and religious leaders. In personal relationships, holding influence over women and other men is seen as a sign of masculinity.

What are gender roles based? ›

Gender roles are based on the different expecta- tions that individuals, groups, and societies have of individuals based on their sex and based on each society's values and beliefs about gender.

What are gender roles in the family? ›

Simplistically, gender roles in a family refer to the extent one performs tasks and behaves in a way that is viewed as societally and culturally normative. Gender role adherence, according to one's social and cultural background, does not work for each individual or every unique family and will range on a spectrum.

What are examples of social norms? ›

Social norms are unwritten rules of behavior shared by members of a given group or society. Examples from western culture include: forming a line at store counters, saying 'bless you' when someone sneezes, or holding the door to someone entering a building right after you.

What is gender norms in psychology? ›

According to the American Psychological Association, gender norms refer to, “the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for boys and men or girls and women” [1].

What is a synonym for gender norms? ›

A social role based on gender-encompassing behaviors and attitudes considered acceptable. gender role. social role. cultural norm. social construct.

Are gender norms changing? ›

Yes! Gender norms can change as we age (Byrnes et al., 1999), over time within a society, and from culture to culture. For example, think about child rearing during your grandparents' generation. For them, it was usually up to mother to do almost all childcare.

How does culture influence gender roles? ›

Answer and Explanation: Culture influence on gender roles comes from a variety of places, including other people, entertainment, and news cycles. These influences can have negative and positive impacts on gender roles by either confirming or challenging expectations.

What are cultural norms? ›

Social and cultural norms are rules or expectations of behavior and thoughts based on shared beliefs within a specific cultural or social group. While often unspoken, norms offer social standards for appropriate and inappropriate behavior that govern what is (and is not) acceptable in interactions among people.

What is the conclusion of gender roles in society? ›

In conclusion, gender roles tend to change over time. It is important individuals have present that the world was not always as they know it today, and the future can be completely different. How the future may look depends on humanity and the way they think. In brief, roles for women and men will continue evolving.

What do gender roles reflect? ›

Gender roles can be conceptualized as behavioral expectations based on biological sex. Traditionally, for men to be masculine, they are expected to display attributes such as strength, power, and competitiveness, and less openly display emotion and affection (especially toward other men).

What is gender role also known as? ›

A gender role, also known as a sex role, is a social role encompassing a range of behaviors and attitudes that are generally considered acceptable, appropriate, or desirable for a person based on that person's sex.

What do gender roles refer to ________ *? ›

The term gender role is used (especially in the plural form gender roles) to specifically refer to societal expectations of engaging in either stereotypical masculine behavior or stereotypical feminine behavior.

What is the difference between gender and gender roles quizlet? ›

Gender refers to the sex of an individual, either male or female and gender roles is expectations about how males and females should behave.

What are 7 examples of common gender? ›

Common Gender:

Words like a parent, friend, child, servant, enemy, thief, cousin, baby, student, writer, teacher, etc.

What are two common gender examples? ›

A common gender noun is a noun that is used for both the male and female forms of noun. Example: Teacher, Doctor, Artist. These nouns are not specific to the gender of the noun.

What are two genders examples? ›

Dimensions of Gender

Identities typically fall into binary (e.g. man, woman) nonbinary (e.g., genderqueer, genderfluid, etc) or ungendered (e.g., agender, genderless) categories. The meaning associated with a particular identity can vary among individuals using the same term.

How do gender norms affect behavior? ›

Gender norms influence women to perform behaviors in stereotypically less masculine ways, and men to perform them in stereotypically more masculine ways. Accordingly, if masculine performance increases testosterone, men's stereotypically more masculine performance of behavior may lead to more increases in testosterone.

When did gender roles start? ›

Whatever may be the case, it's clear that gender roles as we know them today mostly originated during the Victorian era. The Victorian era, which comprises most of the 19th century, was characterized by strong ideas regarding the roles of each gender in society.

How does gender equality impact society? ›

Gender equality prevents violence against women and girls

men's control of decision-making and limits to women's independence. rigid gender roles and stereotypes. male relationships that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women.

What are examples of gender neutral roles? ›

Historically, many jobs were traditionally for either men or women, and titled accordingly – policeman, fireman, stewardess, actress. However, now that these jobs can be performed by either men or women, gender neutral alternatives are used – police officer, fire fighter, flight attendant, actor.

What are neutral gender roles? ›

Gender neutrality (adjective form: gender-neutral), also known as gender-neutralism or the gender neutrality movement, is the idea that policies, language, and other social institutions (social structures or gender roles) should avoid distinguishing roles according to people's sex or gender.

What is an example of gender roles in children? ›

In addition to their choices of toys, games, and sports, children typically express their gender identity in the following ways: Clothing or hairstyle. Preferred name or nickname. Social behavior that reflects varying degrees of aggression, dominance, dependency and gentleness.

What are some examples of gender inequality in families? ›

Boys are more likely than girls to have maintenance chores like mowing the lawn or painting, while girls are given domestic chores like cooking and cleaning. This segregation of household labour tells children that they are expected to take on different roles based on their gender.

How do parents influence gender roles? ›

Parents provide children with their first lessons about gender. Possible ways that parents might influence children's gender development include role modeling and encouraging different behaviours and activities in sons and daughters.

What are some examples of gender role socialization? ›

This gender socialization can be direct or indirect. For example, children learn about gender stereotypes through their peers' direct comments (e.g., “long hair is for girls while short hair is for boys”) and/or negative reactions when failing to conform to their gender expectations.

What influences gender roles in today's society? ›

Gender roles are influenced by the media, family, environment, and society. In addition to biological maturation, children develop within a set of gender-specific social and behavioral norms embedded in family structure, natural play patterns, close friendships, and the teeming social jungle of school life.

What are the roles played by male? ›

The male role in families is continually reified by men as they model gender norms and adult sexuality, provide resources, offer nurturance and support, and manage and maintain the family unit. Each of these primary male sex roles empower – and often constrain – male behavior within a family unit.

What is an example of gender role socialization in schools? ›

School socialization

As with parents, teachers may use gendered language when speaking to and about boys and girls. Schools may encourage boys to engage in science or mathematics whereas they may be more forgiving if girls are not succeeding in these subjects.

What's another word for gender roles? ›

A gender role, also known as a sex role, is a social role encompassing a range of behaviors and attitudes that are generally considered acceptable, appropriate, or desirable for a person based on that person's sex.

What are 2 examples of gender norms? ›

For example, girls and women are generally expected to dress in typically feminine ways and be polite, accommodating, and nurturing. Men are generally expected to be strong, aggressive, and bold. Every society, ethnic group, and culture has gender role expectations, but they can be very different from group to group.

How do gender roles affect families? ›

Gender roles (what it means to be a boy, a girl, or somewhere else on the gender spectrum) shape all of our relationships, especially in our families. Gender roles influence how partners share household chores, how family members communicate with one another, and how parents interact with their children.

What are 5 examples of masculine gender roles? ›

Examples of Masculine Gender
  • Man.
  • Boy.
  • Uncle.
  • Grandfather.
  • Bachelor.
  • Mayor.
  • Baron.
  • Ox.


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