Eleanor Maccoby Biography

Best Known For:

  • Research in developmental psychology
  • Research on gender and sex roles
  • Studies on selective attention
  • Investigations into the impact of divorce
  • First woman to chair the Stanford psychology department

Early Life and Education:

Eleanor Emmons Maccoby was born on May 15, 1917 in Tacoma, Washington. She was the second of four daughters born to her parents, Eugene and Viva. She married a psychology graduate student named Nathan Maccoby during her senior year of college and the couple later went on to adopt three children.

She earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Washington and went on to earn both her master's and doctorate degrees from the University of Michigan.


Maccoby worked briefly with behaviorist psychologist B. F. Skinner before she was offered a position at Harvard University by psychologist Robert Sears. Her early research included studies on the impact of television on children and investigations into child-rearing practices. Eventually, Maccoby began to feel that her gender was impacting her ability to attain professional advancement at Harvard, so she decided to take a position at Stanford University as a professor of psychology.

Maccoby's research turned to focus on the psychology of sex differences. Her work stressed the biological influences that lead to differences between men and women and suggested that social, cultural, and parental influences were not the primary determinates of gender roles and preferences.

Her work during the 1990s centered largely on the impact that divorce had on children. Her longitudinal investigations into the effect that divorce had on families led her to write two books on the topic, including Dividing the Child (co-authored by Robert Mnookin) and Adolescents After Divorce (co-authored with Christy Buchanan and Sanford Dornbusch).

Contributions to Psychology:

Maccoby's work helped pioneer research on gender roles and sex differences. She has received numerous awards and recognitions for her work, including the G. Stanley Hall Award (1982) and the American Psychology Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award (1996). Division 7 of the American Psychological Association also presents an award in her name, the Maccoby Award, to psychology authors who make important contributions in the area of developmental psychology. In a 2002 study ranking the 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th-century, Maccoby was ranked at number 70.

Selected Publications:

Maccoby, E. E. (1998). The two sexes: Growing up apart, coming together. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Maccoby, E. E. (1988). Gender as a social category. Developmental Psychology, 24, 755-765.

Maccoby, E. E. (1980). Social development: Psychological growth and the parent-child relationship. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace.

Maccoby, E. E., & Jacklin, C. N. (1974). The psychology of sex differences. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

 Maccoby, E. E., Newcomb, T. R., & Hartley, E. (Eds.).(1958). Readings in social psychology. New York: Henry Holt.

 Sears, R. R., Maccoby, E.

E., & Levin, H. (1957). Patterns of child-rearing. Evanston, IL: Row-Peterson.

Learn more about eminent psychologists:


American Psychological Association. (1989). Eleanor E. Maccoby. American Psychologist, 44, 621-623.

American Psychological Association (2004). The Eleanor Maccoby book award in developmental psychology. Retrieved from http://www.apadivisions.org/division-7/awards/book/index.aspx

Association for Psychological Science. (2014). Eleanor Maccoby talks developmental psychology, gender studies. Observer, 27(2). Retrieved from http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/video/eleanor-maccoby-talks-developmental-psychology-gender-studies.html

Haggbloom et al. (2002). The 100 Most Eminent Psychologists of the 20th Century. Review of General Psychology, 6, 139-152.