The Biosocial Approach to Gender Development

The Biosocial Theory

  • Money and Ehrhardt 1972
  • In their book ‘man and woman, boy and girl’ they set out their theory that once a biological male or female is born, social labelling and differential treatment interact with biological factors (such as exposure to testosterone) to steer their gender development. They integrated nature and nurture influences. They argued that it is sex of rearing that is the determiner of gender development. Biological will determine how they are reared, however some individuals are intersex. Money and Ehrhardt predicted that if they are mislabelled and treated as that label, they will identify as that sex. Therefore the key to gender development is the label given.
  • Evaluation:
  • An issue with Money and Ehrhardts theory is that the evidence from the case study of David Reimer is un-supporting as when ‘Brenda’ was told that she was actually male, she reverted to her true self, a male and lived the rest of his life as that gender, despite being raised as a female for the majority of his childhood. Therefore this doesn’t support Money and Ehrhardts theory that the label determines the development of gender. The research also suffers from sample bias as Money and Ehrhardt had collected evidence, other than the David Reimer case, however it is all from the study of abnormal individuals. For example, genetic females exposed to male hormones prenatally due to drugs from their mothers. This means that the evidence can likely not help us understand ‘normal gender development’ as the findings and conclusions can not be generalised.
  • The Social Role Theory
  • Eagly and Wood 1999
  • Both Eagly and Wood and Money and Ehrhardt argue that the evolutionary explanation of gender development is not fully correct. The evolutionary approach proposes that selective pressures cause both physical and psychological sex differences. Eagly and Wood however suggest that selective pressures cause physical differences and these leads to sex role allocations which in turn create psychological sex differences. The evolutionary view suggests that social roles grow out of biologically determined psychological differences.
  • Division of Labour:
  • The SRT argues that the biologically based physical differences between men and women allow them to perform tasks more efficiently. For example, childbearing and nursing mean no extended time away for women and upper strength in men means they can hunt and are able to leave home.
  • Also, in societies where strength in occupational roles isn’t required or care outside the home is available, social roles will be more similar and psychological differences are reduced.
  • Mate Choice:
  • We seek a partner in relation to social roles, rather than reproductive value. Women maximise their chances by selecting a mate who is a good wage earner and males select a woman who is successful in the domestic role. Therefore different social roles explain sex differences in mate choice.
  • Evaluation:
  • Eagly and Woods (1999) social role theory follows the social constructionist approach which suggests that human behaviour is an invention or outcome of a particular society or culture, meaning that it is best understood in terms of the social context it comes from. A benefit of Eagly and Woods theory is that it can explain the research evidence from Buss’ study of 37 cultures which found that generally women have less earning capacity and women seek men with resources who also have power and dominance. Also, men want younger women because they will be more obedient, as well as fertile. Eagly and Wood concluded that social roles are the driving force in psychological sex differences, with female status lowering the sex differences and the division in labour.
  • In a modern world the value of SRT is that it supports the feminist view, which has bought about great changes in opportunities for UK women. The theory demonstrates that changes in social roles will lead to changes in psychological differences between men and women. Luxen (2007) also illustrated that it has high ethical appeal because sex roles are perceived as social and therefore more flexible. However, Luxen argues that the traditional evolutionary approach is a better explanation of social roles because behaviour is at least as important as physical characteristic and therefore selective pressure would act directly on behaviour to create psychological as well as physical sex differences. Luxen also point to research that has shown that very young children and even animals display sex differences through toy preference, which is likely to be biological rather than psychological as sex role socialisation is unlikely to have happened at such a young age or in animals at all.

Biosocial Approach to Gender Development- Plan


  • Genetic sex, social labelling and differential treatment combine with biological factors.
  • Integrated nature and nurture influences but sex of rearing is the determiner.
  • Biology will determine how they are reared. If intersex, they will be the label they are given.
  • Selective pressures cause physical differences, which lead to sex role allocations, which create psychological sex differences.
  • Division of labour is due to certain physical differences enabling different roles to be done more efficiently.
  • Societies where strength in occupational roles isn’t necessary/ care outside of the home: social roles are similar and less psychological differences.
  • Mates are chosen in relation to social roles i.e. women want males with wealth and males want successful domestic women.


P: The evidence of David Reimer is un-supporting

E: When ‘Brenda’ was told he was actually male, he reverted to original gender despite being raised and labelled as female.

E: Also suffers from sample bias as all the research collected was on abnormal individuals. It therefore cant’ help understand ‘normal’ gender development.

E: Other studies do support it however: Eagly and Wood re-examination of Buss’ study. Social roles are heavily important in determining psychological sex differences.

P: E & W follows the social constructionist approach.

E: Only relevant in the culture/ society it happens in.

E: Benefit is that it can explain Buss’ study- women seek men with wealth due their earnings which are less.

P: In a modern world, SRT supports feminism.

E: the theory demonstrates how changes in social roles will lead to changes in psychological differences in men and women.

E: Luxen (2007) illustrated that it has an ethical appeal

E: However, Luxen argues traditional evolutionary approach is a better explanation.

E: Also points to research that show young children and animal applying sex differences through toy preferences. This is biological, not psychological.