Carol Gilligan's Theory of Gender & Moral Development

Carol Gilligan developed her theory of moral development in response to Lawrence Kohlberg’s 1969 examination of moral concepts including those related to justice, rights, equality and human welfare.


Gilligan’s 1982 book, “In A Different Voice: Psychological Theory & Women’s Development,” takes its basis in the moral development of women--Kohlberg’s earlier research did not include women in its study, but included interviews with males.


Gilligan theorized that women feel inequality and fairness as less of an issue than do men because they do not break away from a close association with the mother as early as do boys, who assert their masculinity by asserting independence.

Level One

The moral development of women is, according to Gilligan, split into three levels. The first level is the perception of survival of the self, this level is described as the individual moving from selfish to responsible.

Level Two

The second level associates self-sacrifice with goodness--the individual finds a place within the given structure of society.

Level Three

In the final level of moral development, the woman finds truth in the understanding of herself and a realization of the consequences of her actions.