There’s a lot of chatter about why boys and girls play with different toys. Some people are concerned that playing with certain types of toys will have an effect on kids’ gender. It turns out, it’s not like that.
Some people claim that gender stereotyping is a thing with toys. They say boys don’t naturally choose trucks, cars and action figures to play with. And they also say girls woudln’t necessarily choose dolls and stuffed animals to play with.
Well, it turns out they do. And there’s nothing wrong with that. A new survey by John A. Barry of University College London’s Institute for Women’s Health gives scientific evidence this is quite normal and expected, PsyPost reports.
The study found that children overwhelmingly chose to play with toys typed to their gender. Boys played with male‐typed toys more than girls did. Girls played with female‐typed toys more than boys did.
“For some people the topic of gender difference in toy choice is controversial, because they passionately believe that such gender differences should not exist. For other people the topic is trivial, because for them it is totally obvious that there are gender differences in toy choice,” remarked study author John A. Barry of University College London’s Institute for Women’s Health.
“My interest in this topic stems from my research into polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This is a condition in which women have slightly elevated testosterone. The cause of PCOS is not known. Animal research suggests that the female fetus in a PCOS pregnancy is exposed to elevated levels of testosterone, programming for later development of PCOS”, he says to PsyPost.
“If elevated prenatal testosterone is the cause, then one of the effects we might see in childhood is increased interest of girls in male-typical toys. If we see greater interest in male-typical toys in PCOS girls, then this is potentially an important finding in helping our understanding of the cause and therefore potential cure for PCOS.”
The actual study details
For their study, the researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 16 studies from 1980 to 2016. They included a total of 787 boys and 813 girls (ages 1 to 8 years). A meta-analysis is a method used to statistically summarize the results of multiple studies.
The researchers excluded studies that relied on self-reported data from parents or children. Instead, the 16 studies in the meta-analysis were all observational studies of children in free play. The studies were conducted in the United States, Canada, Europe, Israel and China.
The gender difference in toy preference held even after the researchers accounted for the effects of the presence or absence of an adult, the study setting, the gender equality status of the country, year of publication, and presence of gender‐neutral toys. Instead, other factors played a role. For example, the meta-analysis found that boys did play with male‐typed toys less when at home than when in a laboratory and girls played with female‐typed toys less in more recent studies.
“There is a fashion today to say that gender is purely a social construct. In reality, gendered behaviour is a mix of biology and social influence, and I think our meta-analysis supports this view,” Barry told PsyPost.
Barry is clear that kids should play with toys that they like, not ones that absolutely correnspond with their gender roles or something else. “I think the major caveat is that the findings of this study are descriptive, not prescriptive. In other words, the meta-analysis demonstrates, for example, that in general boys prefer playing with male-typical toys, but this is not to say that boys should play only with male typical toys,” Barry explained.
Barry adds there’s nothing wrong with kids playing with whatever toys they like. What’s wrong is forcing them to play only with certain types of toys because they conform to whatever school of thought someone else supports.