Child, Youth, and Family Studies, Department of


Date of this Version

October 1984


Published in Child Development 55 (1984), pp. 440-452. Copyright © 1984 by the Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.


Questions of how young children use “age” groups to understand the social world led to 2 studies exploring the content of preschool children’s age group labels and categories. Study 1 included 32 children aged 2-4 years and determined spontaneous labels for both photographs and dolls representing the life span. Results indicated that children readily labeled all ages using a relatively limited set of terms, but showed less patterned labeling of stimuli representing adults than children. Girls’ labels were more structured than boys’. Older preschoolers showed more differentiated structures than did younger ones and used more kinship terms as labels. Study 2, on 84 children aged 3-5, was a photograph-sorting task that determined the points of transition between age categories as well as subjects’ own self-identification by age group. Results indicated that preschoolers used a nonadult method of dividing up the life span. Older children made fewer errors. Age self-identification was congruent with how children sorted photos of unfamiliar peers. However, younger boys and girls differed in their self-identification, perhaps reflecting differences in gender identification processes.