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Dr. Eleanor Maccoby, a prolific contributor to the developmental psychology literature, has been a faculty member in the psychology Department of Stanford University since 1958. After attaining her B.S. in psychology from the University of Washington, Maccoby started her research career as a study director with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC. In a setting where large-scale national survey research projects were expected to be completed within 3 months, Maccoby had the opportunity to study a range of topics that included consumer income and savings, public reactions to heating oil rationing, and post-war experiences of veterans with section 8 discharges (now known as post-traumatic stress disorder).

Maccoby decided to leave the Department of Agriculture with a group of other researchers who followed Rensis Likert to Michigan. She pursued her graduate education at the University of Michigan, where she also taught survey research methods with Angus Campbell. While at Michigan, Maccoby's graduate work was in traditional learning theory, and she also served as study director in the Survey Research Center. Maccoby left Michigan to move to Boston and ended up completing her dissertation in B.F. Skinner's lab, examining varieties of partial reinforcement in conditioning pigeons, although she never considered herself a Skinnerian. She received her PhD in psychology from the University of Michigan in 1950.

After receiving her doctoral degree, Maccoby became an instructor, then a lecturer, at Harvard University in the Department of Social Relations. The department was interdisciplinary which provided a thriving mix of the perspectives afforded by clinical and social psychologists, anthropologists and sociologists. Then Harvard recruited Robert Sears to establish the Laboratory on Human Development and he recruited Maccoby to direct the field research on a large-scale study of child rearing. Their research led to Patterns of Child-Rearing, a book she co-authored with Sears and Levin in 1957. This was an early contribution to the research on parent-child interaction, and Maccoby went on to publish numerous papers and chapters on this subject since.

When Sears left Harvard to chair the psychology department, Maccoby filled in to teach his courses on child psychology and child development. "I had never studied child psychology and I sweated to pull together those courses. I underwent an ideological change in the course of studying Piaget and other child development literature. I was ready for the cognitive revolution that occurred in the 1950s." Eventually, Sears invited her to Stanford where she has remained since 1958.

Eleanor Emmons was born May 15, 1916, in Tacoma, Washington, to Harry Eugene and Viva May Emmons. She married Nathan Maccoby in 1938, received her bachelor's degree from the University of Washington in 1939, and then traveled to Washington, D.C., where she spent the years during World War II working for a government agency. Returning to her studies at the University of Michigan, Maccoby earned her master's degree in 1949 and her Ph.D. in 1950. She spent the next eight years at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, before moving to Stanford University in California, where she served as a professor and chairman of the psychology department from 1973-76.

Research Interests[]

Maccoby's primary interests have been in the development of children's behavior, particularly as it relates to family functioning and parental child rearing methods. Her specific research and writing topics have addressed child rearing, perceptual work on selective listening, sex differences, and divorce, and her articles and books have had a broad impact on the field. In 1974 (with Carol Jacklin) she published The Psychology of Sex Differences, a compendium of research information available at the time, which attempted to explode some myths concerning sex differences, as well as to document how cross-sex relationships differ at different points in the life cycle. This work appears in her recent book, The Two Sexes: Growing up Apart, Coming Together (1998, Harvard Press). Maccoby also studied the post-separation lives of divorcing families, publishing two books on the topic: Dividing the Child: The Social and Legal Dilemmas of Custody (1992) by Maccoby and Mnookin; and Adolescents After Divorce (1996), by Buchanan, Maccoby and Dornbusch.

Maccoby faced the challenges of many women balancing family and career, and met them head-on. "When my children were young, I worked part-time so I could take care of them. My teaching load remained the same, but I gave up doing research and there was a five to six year period when I didn't publish much. The balancing act is never easy. I handled it by managing my schedule somewhat creatively. I developed a habit of getting up at 2:00 a.m. and working until 4:00 a.m. With no distractions, I managed to be quite productive. And this worked better for me than to try to work late into the evening after I had fed my kids, and put them to bed. I continued this middle-of-the-night shift for 20 years."

Maccoby advises graduate students to get involved in research projects. "There are faculty members everywhere who love to take interested students under their wing." She recognizes the value of professional contacts in her own career path and acknowledges the help she found from the "old boys network." "I never had the benefit of the old girl's network, because it didn't exist! Now I find that the most useful professional networks are a function of joint interests and are made up of men and women."

Honors and awards[]

Among Maccoby's many honors and awards are the G. Stanley Hall Award, Division 7, APA in 1982; AERA's Distinguished Contributions in Educational Research, 1984; Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD's) Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Child Development, 1987; APA's Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award, 1988; American Psychological Foundation's Gold Medal Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Science of Psychology, 1996. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and has served as president of both the Consortium of Social Science Associations, and SRCD.


  • Maccoby, E. "Eleanor E. Maccoby." In A History of Psychology in Autobiography. G. Lindzey, ed. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1989.
  • ------. Social Development: Psychological Growth and the Parent-Child Relationship. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich, 1980.
  • Maccoby, E., and C.N. Jacklin. Psychology of Sex Differences. Stanford: Stanford Univesity Press, 1974.
  • Maccoby, E., and R.H. Mnookin. Dividing the Child: Social and Legal Dilemmas of Custody. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.