Sex Roles, Vol. 53, Nos. 3/4, August 2005 (
The Impact of Fathers’ Absence on African American
Adolescents’ Gender Role Development
Carolyn B. Murray,
and Toya N. Joyner
Gender role development was assessed in 52 father-absent and 54 father-present African
American adolescents. Father-present boys, especially those from lower-income back-
grounds, had higher perceptions of their masculinity than did father-absent boys. Lower in-
come father-absent girls perceived themselves to be higher in masculinity than did all other
girls. Consequently, father-present adolescents tended to have more traditional gender role
orientations than did those in father-absent homes. It is argued that mothers’ and fathers’
different socializing strategies balance out in two-parent homes. However, in father-absent
homes, mothers’ tendency to rely on and pressure their daughters fosters relatively more
masculine girls, whereas a lack of father socialization fosters less masculine boys. Implica-
tions for theory and future research are also discussed.
KEY WORDS: gender role development; father’s absence; African American adolescents.
Gender role development is a well-studied area
of psychological research that refers to schemas or
beliefs about one’s masculinity and femininity, the
feelings associated with those attributes, and one’s
perceptions of one’s similarity to others of one’s gen-
der (Egan & Perry, 2001). Although a great deal is
known about the development and consequences of
gender role orientations (Bussey & Bandura, 1999;
Marsh & Byrne, 1991; Ruble & Martin, 2000), the
effects of different cultures and diverse family en-
vironments are highly debated (Harris, 1996; Hilton
& Haldeman, 1991; Hofferth & Anderson, 2003;
Hunter & Davis, 1992; Ruble & Martin, 2000).
For example, there is great debate about the ef-
fects on gender role development of living in a father-
less home (Beaty, 1995; Leve & Fagot, 1997; Stevens,
Golombok, Beveridge, & Study Team ALSPAC,
2002; Stevenson & Black, 1988). Many have argued
Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.
University of California, Riverside, California.
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in Human Development and Social Policy, Northwestern
University, 2120 Campus Drive, Evanston, Illinois 60208, or
Department of Psychology, University of California, Riverside,
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that fathers are important to the psychosocial devel-
opment of children and adolescents (Adelson, 1980;
Amato, 1991; Beaty, 1995; Hilton & Desrochers,
2002; Mandara & Murray, 2000), whereas others
have argued that the importance of fathers to child
development is questionable at best (Silverstein &
Auerbach, 1999; Stevens et al., 2002). Given that a
large percentage of African American children are
now reared in predominately single mother-headed
households (Fields, 2003; Tucker & Mitchell-Kernan,
1995), the differences between father-absent and
father-present African American adolescents are at
the center of this debate (Mandara & Murray, 2000).
It is surprising that very few researchers have specif-
ically examined gender role differences between
father-absent and father-present African American
adolescents. The purpose of the present study was to
ﬁll this void and to explore the effects of father’s ab-
sence on the current and ideal gender role develop-
ment of African American adolescents.
Fathers’ Inﬂuence on Gender Role Development
As the structure of American families began
to change, several researchers examined the effects
2005 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.