Assessing gilligan vs. sommers: Gender-specific trends in child and youth well-being in the United States, 1985-2001


Journal Article

The question of whether boys or girls (and young males and females) have been doing better in terms of their well-being in the United States has been a point of sometimes rancorous debate among feminist and other scholars in recent decades. But suprisingly little systematic empirical inquiry has been devoted to this question. The present study addresses this general question and a number of related questions by application of a recently developed index of child and youth well-being to study trends in well-being. Specifically, sex-specific trends in 28 national-level time series social indicators in seven quality-of-life domains - material well-being, social relationships (with family and peers), health, safety/behavioral concerns, productive activity (educational attainments), place in community (participation in schooling or work),and emotional/spiritual well-being - are reviewed. These indicators are indexed by percentage change from a base year, 1985. Subsequent annual observations through the year 2001 are calculated as a percentage of the base year values. Domain specific summary indices as well as a summary overall well-being index are computed. The results are mixed - they show that for both boys and girls, some of the seven domains of well-being have improved since 1985, while others have deteriorated. Since 1995, overall well-being indices for boys and girls have shown significant improvement and 2001 levels were well above 1985 baseline figures. A direct comparison of male and female well-being reveals that the absolute level of gender differences in the summary well-being index decreased in the late 1980s, increased through the mid-1990s, peaked in 1997, and declined thereafter. It is concluded that gender differences in well-being, when they do exist, are very slight and that overall, both boys and girls in the United States currently enjoy a higher quality of life than they did in 1985. The findings are discussed in relation to recent debates in feminist literature. © Springer 2005.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Meadows, SO; Land, KC; Lamb, VL

Published Date

  • January 1, 2005

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 70 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 1 - 52

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0303-8300

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1007/s11205-004-1073-6

Citation Source

  • Scopus