Gender Socialization

“Different” Is Not The Same As “Dysfunctional”

By Antonette King, M.S.W.*

Traditionally, parenting practices are still based on married households where mothers provide the majority of the nurturing and fathers are responsible for financially supporting the household, masculine driven tasks, and play (Biblarz & Stacy, 2010).  However, only 25% of U.S. children grow up in homes with both of their married, biological parents (Simons, Chen, et al., 2006) and this has greatly impacted the structure of African Americans families.  For example, African Americans families have endured a significant decline in the number of marriages, older onsets of first marriage, higher incidences of births to unwed mothers, higher percentages of children living in female-headed homes, and a higher proportion of children raised in poverty (see Taylor, Tucker, Chatters & Jayakody, 1997, for review).  The changes in African American family structures have been so drastic that it has been estimated that nearly 20% of African American children live with extended family members and over 70% of African American births are to unwed mothers (Simons, Chen, et al., 2006).  Since it is understood that single African American mothers are more likely to provide financial support to their household than women of other ethnicities and African American single-headed homes have produced some highly adaptive youth, we as social scientists should seek to provide more comprehensive models of family functioning. But, how?

There is an anecdote that argues, “mothers love their sons and raise their daughters” (Mandara, Murray, & Joyner, 2005, p. 210).  This saying hints at the notion that African American mothers socialize their boy and girl children differently.  As such, African American mothers are often more tolerant and easier on their sons, while often forcing their daughters to be self-sufficient and ambitious (Mandara et al., 2005).  In traditional two-parent households this unique relationship described between a mother and her male and female children would be counteracted by the father who tends to be tougher and more controlling of their sons achievement and more lenient on their girls (Mandara et al., 2005).  Although these counter-balancing relationships are not always possible in single-parent homes, some children raised in single-parent homes are quite resilient.  So, the notion that a child needs a mother and father assumes that there are fundamental differences within mothering and fathering (Biblarz & Stacey, 2010).  Future social work research on African American families should examine how various family configurations influence family relationships, gendered based parenting practices, and youth outcomes.

*Antonette King is a Doctoral Candidate in the Joint Doctoral program in Social Work and Psychology at the University of Michigan


Biblarz, T. J., & Stacey, J. (2010). Ideal families and social science ideals. Journal of Marriage & the Family, 72, 41-44.

Mandara, J., Murray, C. B., & Joyner, T. N. (2005). The impact of fathers’ absence on African American adolescents’ gender role development. Sex Roles, 53, 207-220.

Simons, L. G., Chen, Y., Simons, R. L., Brody, G., & Cutrona, C. (2006). Parenting Practices and Child Adjustment in Different Types of Households: A Study of African American Families. Journal of Family Issues, 27, 803-825.

Taylor, R., Tucker, M., Chatters, L., & Jayakody, R. (1997). Recent demographic trends in African American family structure. Family life in Black America (pp. 14-62). Thousand Oaks, CA US: Sage Publications, Inc.