A few weeks ago I talked about the details regarding the costs associated with products marketed to females versus males. This week I interviewed senior Cydne Pope whose thesis ties in very well and dives into the related topic of the social and economic consequences of gendered toys in America. She explores everything from the difference in cognitive ability that these toys promote to the future consequences of toy segregation.
TS: What inspired you to choose this topic?
CP: When deciding on a thesis topic, I always knew that I wanted to incorporate gender and gender differences into my paper somehow. I initially started researching the costs associated with products marketed to females versus males, similar to what you discussed in the blog several weeks ago. Throughout my research, however, I kept coming across the notion of gendered toys and the distinct differences in toys marketed to males and females. I decided to do some research about toys, and fell in love with the topic.
TS: You mention that due to this toy segregation, we are seeing an education gap between boys and girls, how prevalent is this problem and what kinds of skills are each gender taking?
CP: Based on the research presented in my paper, the education gap between boys and girls is closing, and girls are beginning to score as well as boys in all academic fields. However, some research indicates that rather than simply closing, the gap is actually reversing, and females are beginning to outshine males in all academic fields. This problem is prevalent because the education gap goes on to influence the careers, skills and life trajectories chosen by children based on their areas of cognitive expertise. Overall, boys are shown to exhibit stronger abilities in math/science/spatial fields while girls are shown to exhibit stronger abilities in linguistic/verbal/social fields.
TS: How do these skills play a role in the career choices made later in life?
CP: The skills children foster in early childhood are shown to influence the careers they select later in adulthood. As boys generally excel in math/science fields, based on a combination of the way they are treated and the toys they are given, many males enter into STEM fields and pursue careers in that arena. Meanwhile, females are often socialized to excel in linguistic/social fields, and as a result many females enter into lower-paying occupations more suited to their skill set such as teaching or nursing.
TS: What are some of the risks or consequences you found that come from either male or female specific toys?
CP: The primary economic risk/consequence I have discovered from gendered toys is the limited range of cognitive skills girls and boys develop based on play with toys suited for one specific gender. If the skillset developed in girls and boys becomes different enough, the US may not have an adequate talent pool to satisfy its labor force needs in the future. There are also a variety of behavioral consequences that come with male and female-specific toys. Boys’ toys, especially video games, have shown to cause an increase in aggressive cognition and an increase in the use of violence to solve problems. Girls’ toys, however, often focus on grooming and appearance, and have thus influenced young girls to place more emphasis on their own looks/appearance.
TS: What did you find on gender-neutral toys?
CP: Toys that are categorized as gender-neutral exhibited different features than toys that are gender-stereotyped. Unlike toys that are rated strongly masculine or strongly feminine, toys that are rated neutral score higher on their scientific qualities, educational value and stimulation of physical and cognitive skills. Additionally, neutral toys are also thought to be more musical and artistic than strongly masculine or strongly feminine toys.
TS: How are these toys received differently?
CP: Generally, children exhibit a stronger preference towards toys and activities that are deemed “own-gender”. However, gender-neutral toys are said to have a variety of benefits that gender specific toys do not have. Gender-neutral toys generally offer more educational value and cognitive stimulation than gender-specific toys. Additionally, gender-neutral toys are though to enhance musical and artistic ability. Children would benefit from more play with gender-neutral toys as they help lessen gender stereotypes and foster a valuable skill set not generally available through play with gender-specific toys of any kind.
TS: Where would you say this preference for toys stems?
CP: In short, I would say this preference for own-gender toys stems from deeply rooted societal expectations about the cognitive abilities of boys and girls. Literature demonstrates that both parents and teachers expect boys to have a higher cognitive ability than girls, especially in math/science fields. As such, parents and teachers provide more educational environments for young boys than girls. This expectation has translated to young children as well. A study conducted on kindergarteners revealed that both 5-year-old boys and girls predicted higher academic achievement when imagining a hypothetical boy as opposed to a hypothetical girl. The expectation that boys will outperform girls academically is present both at home and at school, as well as in the minds of young children.
TS: What types of actions do you suggest that we as individuals or a society take regarding this issue?
CP: First, I would suggest providing children with more gender-neutral toys that foster a wider spread of cognitive abilities. Second, I would suggest that parents accept and even encourage that their children play with both own-gender and cross-gender toys to foster the widest range of cognitive abilities possible. Often, children are punished or scrutinized for cross-gender play, when they should be encouraged for expanding their viewpoints.
Thanks for the great insight Cydne, stay tuned for more interviews to come!