Susan M. McHale 

photo of Susan McHale

Director, Social Science Research Institute, Distinguished Professor of Human Development and Family Studies

Contact Information

114 Henderson (North)
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park PA 16802


(fax) 814-863-8342

Research Interests

I am interested in children's and adolescents' family relationships, roles, and everyday activities. Highlighted in my work are sibling relationship dynamics and the family experiences that foster similarities and differences in the interests, attributes, and developmental trajectories of sisters and brothers. My earlier research on children's and adolescents' family experiences pointed to the significance of gender dynamics in everyday family life and served as a basis for my current interest in the family as a context for gender socialization. The extent to which sisters versus brothers assume different family roles, experience different kinds of relationships with their parents, and have access to different kinds of resources and opportunities are important ways in which families differ. I am interested in the ways in which such family dynamics are linked to girls' and boys' well-being and development. A body of research has uncovered sex differences in a range of adjustment problems in childhood and adolescence, with problems such as depression and weight concerns more common in girls and risky behaviors and conduct problems more common in boys. Findings such as these suggest that the study of gender socialization in the family may be central to an understanding of child and adolescent mental health and adjustment. I am also interested in how gender dynamics in families are connected to the choices girls and boys make later in adolescence in the areas of education, career, and family formation, choices that play a defining role in adult life.

Together with Ann Crouter, I co-direct the Penn State Family Relationships Project, a longitudinal study of families focused on these themes that has been funded by NICHD since 1995. Most recently my research has examined the cultural contexts of family gender dynamics. In two new studies, also funded by NICHD, I am working with my Penn State colleagues, Ann Crouter, and Linda Burton, to study gender dynamics in a sample of two-parent African American families in the Philadelphia, PA region and with Kim Updegraff a former HDFS graduate student, now on the faculty at Arizona State University, to study similar dynamics in Mexican American families in Phoenix AZ.

These longitudinal family studies have produced a rich data base of information on the experiences of mothers, fathers, and siblings as these change over time, in families from a range of backgrounds and circumstances. Graduate students have been extensively involved in all of our work, and our projects will continue to provide a variety of opportunities for students interested in family dynamics and youth development.

Research Grants

■ 1984-85: The Ecology of Children's Daily Activities. Foundation for Child Development, Program for Young Scholars in Social & Affective Development (with A. C. Crouter)

■ 1984-86: Daily activities with siblings: A comparison of children with disabled and nondisabled brothers and sisters. March of Dimes Foundation (with W. Gamble)

■ 1986-89: Parenting in Dual-Earner Families. Research Grant funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Development (with A. C. Crouter).

■ 1993-95: Collaborative Community Intervention Strategies for Adolescents. Research Grant funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York (with A. C. Crouter and K. Fennelly).

■ 1994-99: Gender Role Socialization in Middle Childhood National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (with A. C. Crouter).

■ 1995-00: Parental Work, Family Dynamics, and Adolescent Development. National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (with A. C. Crouter).

■ 1999-2004 Teen vs. Adult-Led Drug Prevention in Schools via 4-H. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (T. St. Pierre, Principal Investigator; S. M. McHale and C. Mincemoyer, Co-Investigators)

■ 2001-2004 Gender Socialization in Mexican-American Families. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (Kimberly Updegraff, Principal Investigator, A. C. Crouter and S. M. McHale, Co-P.I.'s; N. Gonzalez, M. Roosa, and R. Milsap, Co-I.'s)

■ 2001-2004 Gender role Development and HIV risk in emerging adulthood. National Institutes of Health (NIMH and NICHD). (Eva Lefkowitz, Principal Investigator, E. Loken, S. McHale, D. Swanson and M. Rovine, Investigators).

■ 2001-2007 Gender Socialization in Middle Childhood and Adolescence. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (Co-PI with A. C. Crouter)


M.A., 1979, Developmental Psychology, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
B.A., 1975, Psychology, Bucknell University
Ph.D., 1979, Developmental Psychology, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Professional Experience

1979-80: Post-Doctoral Fellow, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center.

1980-86: Assistant Professor of Human Development, The Pennsylvania State University.

1986-94: Associate Professor of Human Development, The Pennsylvania State University.

1994-Present: Professor of Human Development, The Pennsylvania State University.

2002-2003: Interim Department Head, Human Development and Family Studies.

Selected Publications

McHale, S. M., Updegraff, K. A., & Whiteman, S. D. (in press).  Sibling relationships. In G. Peterson & K.R. Bush (Eds.), Handbook of Marriage and the Family, New York: Springer

McHale, S. M., Kim, J. Y., Dotterer, A., Crouter, A. C., & Booth, A. (2009). The development of gendered interests and personality qualities from middle childhood through adolescence: A bio-social analysis. Child Development, 80, 482-495. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2009.01273.x

McHale, S. M., Updegraff, K. A., Kim, J., & Cansler, E. (2009). Cultural orientations, daily activities, and adjustment in Mexican American youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38, 627-641. doi: 10.1007/s10964-008-9321-8 PMCID: 2718432

McHale, S. M., Bissell, J. & Kim, J. Y. (2009). Sibling relationship, family, and genetic factors in sibling similarity in sexual risk. Journal of Family Psychology, 23, 562-572.

McHale, S. M., Kim, J. Y., Whiteman, S. D. & Crouter, A. C. (2007).  Sibling relationships in two-parent African American families.  Journal of Family Psychology, 21, 227-235.

Shanahan, L., McHale, S. M., Osgood, D. W., & Crouter, A. C. (2007).  Conflict with mothers and fathers from middle childhood through adolescence:  Within and between family comparisons.  Developmental Psychology, 43, 539-550.

Whiteman, S. D., McHale, S. M., & Crouter, A. C. (2007). Longitudinal changes in marital relationships: The role of offspring’s pubertal development. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 1005-1020.

Kim, J. Y., McHale, S. M., Crouter, A. C. & Osgood, D. W., (2006).  Longitudinal course and family correlates of sibling relationships from childhood through adolescence.  Child Development, 77, 1387-1402.

McHale, S. M., Crouter, A. C., Kim, J. Y., Burton, L. M., Davis, K. A, Dotterer, A., & Swanson, D. P. (2006).  Mothers’ and fathers’ racial socialization in African American families:  Implications for youth.  Child Development, 77, 1387-1402.

McHale, S. M., Updegraff, K. A., Shanahan, L., & Killoren, S. A. (2005). Siblings' differential treatment in Mexican American families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 1259-1274.

Strategic Themes

  • Human Development
  • Contexts and Social Institutions
  • Populations of Special Interest