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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
LORD, A N (2009). Parental Toy Selection and Breaking Gender Roles. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 12. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved September 26, 2023 .

Parental Toy Selection and Breaking Gender Roles
Department of University of Central Missouri

Sponsored by: PATRICIA MARSH (pmarsh@ucmo.edu)


This study examined whether there were relationships and differences between parents who buy their children gender-specific toys and non-gender-specific toys. Parents were asked to fill out a survey with pictures of various toys, and rated how likely they were to buy these toys for their children. The study also was conducted to determine if mothers or fathers are more likely to buy gender-specific toys for their child/children. The results of the study for the first child listed on the survey were analyzed and showed that parents are both likely to buy toys for their children based on their gender.    

Parental Toy Selection and Breaking Gender Roles


In our modern society, are parents encouraging their children to stick to the traditional gender-roles by toys they choose to purchase for their children? The toys that parents buy their children may contribute to their understanding of gender-roles, but who is more likely to buy gender specific toys for their children? “Whereas mothers are traditionally seen as the main agents of socialization, it has been argued that fathers are paramount in the formations of gender identity” (Bradley, & Gobbart, 2001, p. 453). For example, fathers are not likely to buy their sons dolls and mothers are not likely to buy their daughters trucks. This study will examine whether fathers or mothers are more likely to buy their children gender specific toys and determine if they are breaking the traditional gender-roles by finding out what toys they are buying for their children.

            Caldera, Aletha, and Hurston (1989) conducted a study to examine whether parents encouraged involvement with sex-stereotyped toys or avoidance of cross-sex-stereotyped toys. The feminine toys included two baby dolls with bottles, a soft clown, and a kitchen play set. The masculine toys included a variety of trucks and cars and also a box of wooden blocks. Along with the feminine and masculine toys there were neutral toys, this group included puzzles and shape sorters. The study consisted of forty parent-child pairs (20 mothers and 20 fathers); half were observed with a daughter and half with a son. In the study the children’s ages varied from 18 to 23 months. All of the groups were exposed to six different set of toys for four minutes each. The results of the study were reported by toy group (feminine, masculine, and neutral) and there were no differences between toys within stereotypes. Fathers and sons were more excited when opening a box of masculine toys (sex-stereotyped toys) over the box containing feminine toys (cross-sexed toys), and mothers and daughters were rated more excited by the box which contained the feminine toys (Caldera, Aletha, & Hurston, 1989).

            Children start to associate toys with their gender at very young age, “many children display sex-stereotyped toy preference and behavior by 18-24 months of age at home and in group settings” (Caldera et al., 1984, p. 70). Although parents’ toy selection may play a big part in their children’s perception of gender differences, the observation of behavioral roles of females and males can be made by infants. For example, infants observe the everyday roles of family members in their house hold, or also observe others around them and build schemas from these observations of gender-roles. “Mothers, fathers, female and male siblings, etc.”, may also contribute to a child’s understanding of gender-roles (Serbin, Poulin-Dubois, Colburne, Sen, & Eichstedt, 2001, p. 7). For example, an infant may see older siblings playing with gender specific toys, parents using different household items, or even the clothes that are wore by different genders “may be incorporated into the infant’s gender schema during this process” (Serbin et al., 2001, p. 8).

            Serbin et al. (2001) conducted a study that contained seventy seven children, aged between 12-23 months old. In the experiment two pictures, one of an 8-year-old’s face and the other of an 8-year-old girl’s face, were set as “standards”, for matching up toys with the gender specific toys. The photos used in the study were provided by a modeling agency, “both children were attractive and readily identifiable by gender, based on hair length” (p. 9). The children who participated in the study were shown colored photos of six vehicles and six dolls, “each photo of a vehicle was paired with a photo of a doll, similar in size and color, to form six pairs of stereotyped masculine and feminine toys” (p. 9). The infants were brought into a laboratory and placed in a high chair, and their parents were seated behind the child as the experiment took place, so they would not be distracted. Each infant faced two separate 12-inch colored computer monitors. Between trials the screens remained blank, and in between the monitors was a blue light that flashed to attract the infant’s attention between photos of the toys.

            “Voice prompt were recorded by four school-aged boys and four girls, who were individually recorded saying, “Where’s my toy?”… Find my toy!...”(Serbin et al. 2001, p. 9). Among the children’s voices recorded only one boy and one girl voice were used in the study for the computer presentation, they were rated and determined the means. The purpose of this study was to test the infants “preference for photos of vehicles or dolls, and for whether they associated (“matched”) these two stereotyped sets of toys with the faces and voices of the male and female children” (Serbin et al., 2001, p. 7).  The results of this study showed, that children at the age of 18 months are able to demonstrate a fondness for gender-stereotyped toys.

            Along with the two contributors listed above, another factor that affects children’s understanding of gender-roles is same-sex play groups. “Researchers frequently have noted that children play with same- sex peers more than opposite-sex peers” (Eisenberg, Tyron, & Cameron, 1984, p. 1044). It is a natural process that children will play in same-sex groups and it is socially acceptable. The children among these same-sex and opposite-sex groups “ serve as socializers for one another,” which “reward sex-appropriate” play behaviors more than “sex-inappropriate,” or “opposite-sex, behaviors” (Eisenberg, et al., 1984, p. 1044). The children that interact with one another in these groups are helping to define each other’s gender-role understanding. Eisenberg, et al. (1984) stated that if same sex-play preferences are associated with sex appropriate play and vice versa, then the children’s influence on one another could possibly contributed to reasons why children choose to play with gender specific toys.

            Eisenberg, et al. (1984) videotaped 51 children (25 girls and 26 boys) in preschool for a period of 9 weeks during their free play, to see whether the same-sex play groups had an influence on children’s toy selection. The toys were classified as feminine, masculine or neutral. The toys were classified were chosen based off of previous research. The children were videotaped to examine which toys they played with and their level of peer interaction. The results of the study were boy’s interaction with peers prior to interaction with same-sex toys was relatively infrequent; usually a boy was alone just prior to approaching a toy that was not possessed by another peer. On the other hand, girls occasionally interacted with both girls and boys without delay prior to contact with same-sex toys.

            Finally, among the influences children encounter, another influence is society’s perception of acceptable gender behavior. For example, children are exposed to numerous toy advertisements, which contribute to their understanding of gender roles. Many advertisements on television are filled with  messages indicating which toys are for boys and girls, such as baby dolls and action figures. Commercials on television that advertise various baby dolls always show girls interacting with the doll, never little boys, because it is socially unacceptable behavior. Along with the pressures of society children have the added pressure of their parent’s approval of their toy choices.

            Freeman (2007) conducted a study to get children’s opinion on gender-typical toys and cross-gender toys, and also asked the children to “predict their parents’, or reaction to their choices of gender-specific toys” (Freeman, 2007, p. 357). The children in the experiment included 3 and 5 year olds, who were asked to identify girl toys and the boy toys. Along with the children the “parents were surveyed in an effort to describe their preferences about gender-specific toys and behaviors” (p. 357).The results of this study were divided into two categories, first the 3-year-olds scored an average of 92% on the separation of girl toys and the boy toys. Although, the girls in the 3-year-old group “identify toys as “for girls” or “for boys” along slightly more stereotypical lines did the boys” (Freeman, 2007, p. 359). The 3-year-old group predicted that their parents of the opposite sex would be supportive of their interaction with cross-gender toys.  On the other hand, the 5-year-old boys and girls, were more effective at determining what toys were for boys and girls. The boys in the study were more successful at determining the stereotypical toys than the 3-year-old boys, which suggest that they feel more pressure in relation to gender-roles. The boys in the 5-year-old group, were also  more likely to rate their father’s low to approving their interaction with cross-gender play.

             These studies determined the effects on children and the influences on their perception of what toys they should play with, and who they should play with. This study will not be examining all the influences of a child’s understanding of gender-roles, yet it will examine the toys parents are choosing to buy their children. The study will have the parents evaluate a list of toys and determine how likely they are to buy the toys for their children. In determining what toys parents are purchasing their children, it will answer the question are parents in our modern day society breaking the stereotypical gender-roles, or are they still influencing children to stick with the traditional expectations of men and women?



The participants in this study consisted of 22(16 female and 6 males) parents who have children between 3-8 years of age. All participants were at least 18 years or older and were recruited from the Warrensburg, Missouri area.


The materials for this study consisted of a two part survey, the first part of the survey asked questions about the parent’s age and gender. It also consisted of questions about their ethnicity and how many children live in their household. A chart was available on the survey, for the parents to fill in their children’s ages and genders a. The second part of the survey consisted of 15 pictures of various toys (feminine, masculine, and neutral), and next to each picture was a scale from 1( definitely not buy) to 5 (definitely buy), the scale also had a selection N/A, which represents not applicable. The purpose of the scale was to determine how likely the parent was to buy a particular toy for each child they listed on the first half of the survey. Although the survey was done in black in white, a colored copy was provided for the participants to view. Three separate total rating scores were calculated for each type of toy (feminine, masculine, and neutral). These three scores serve as the dependent variables in the study.


            First, participants read over the consent form and signed it if they were willing to participate. After the consent form was signed, participants completed the first half of the survey followed by the second half. Once the surveys were completed, the researcher thanked the participant and provided them with a debriefing statement.


A 2(participants’ gender) x 2 (the first child’s gender) ANOVA was conducted on the likelihood that feminine toys were bought for the first child listed in the survey. There was a significant main effect of the first child’s gender on participants’ likelihood of purchasing gender-specific toys. Participants were significantly more likely to buy feminine toys for their daughters than for their sons, F(1,18)= 37.28, p<.001. The effect size was η2= .67, which indicates that 67% of the purchasing intentions were determined by the gender of the child they were buying for. However, there was no significant main effect for participants’ gender  and no significant interaction effect for gender of participant and gender of child.

A 2(participants’ gender) x 2 (the first child’s gender) ANOVA was conducted on the likelihood that masculine toys were bought for the first child listed in the survey. There was a significant main effect of the first child’s gender on participants’ likelihood of purchasing gender-specific toys. Participants were significantly more likely to buy masculine toys for their sons than for their daughters, F(1,18)=8.54, p<.01.The effect size was η2= .32, which indicates that 32% of the purchasing intentions were determined by the gender of the child they were buying for.

However, there was no significant main effect for participants’ gender  and no significant interaction effect for gender of participant and gender of child. A 2(participants’ gender) x 2 (the first child’s gender) ANOVA was conducted on the likelihood that neutral toys were bought for the first child listed in the survey. There were no significant main or interaction effects. The data for the other children listed on the  survey are stilling being analyzed, but the bulk of the data in the study are for the first child that was listed on the survey.


            This study was conducted to find if there was a relationship, or differences in parents who buy their children gender-specific toys and non-gender-specific toys. The data collected for this study showed a significant finding that parents are buying toys that are gender-specific. However, the effect size for the likelihood of purchasing feminine toys for the first child 67%, was significantly higher than the effect size for the likelihood of purchasing masculine toys 32%. The reason the effect size was larger for the feminine toys than the masculine toys is because most of the first children listed in the survey were female(13 female and 9 male).

            The also encountered some limitations, since all the surveys collected were not able to be used in the data analyzed. Some participants that agreed to participate in the study ignored the age regulation of their children stated on the consent form. The age required for the children in the survey were to between the ages of 3 and 8; however, some participants listed children who were older than 8 and younger than 3 on the surveys.          


Bradley, B. S., & Gobbart, S. K. (2001). Determinants of gender-typed play in toddlers. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 150, 453-455.

Caldera, Y. M., Huston, A. C., & O’Brien, M. (1989). Social interactions and play patterns of      parents and toddlers with feminine, masculine, and neutral toys. Child Development, 60,          70-76.

Eisenberg, N., Tyron, K., & Cameron E. (1984). The relation of preschoolers’ peer interaction to   their sex-typed toy choices. Child Development, 55, 1044-1050.

Freeman, N. K. (2007). Preschoolers’ perception of gender appropriate toys and their parents’       beliefs about genderized behaviors: Miscommunication, mixed messages, or hidden        truths? Early Child Education Journal, 34, 357-366.

Serbian, L. A., Poulin-Dubois, D., Colburne, K. A., Sen, M. G., & Eichstedt, J. A. (2001).            Gender stereotyping in infancy: Visual preferences for knowledge of gender-stereotyped   toys in the second year. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 25, 7-15.





Table 1


Gender of Parent

Gender of Child

Feminine Toys

Masculine Toys

Neutral Toys





































Figure 1. Mean scores of parent’s selection of the feminine, masculine and neutral toys based the gender of the first child listed on the survey. 















Submitted 05/01/2009
Accepted 05/28/2009

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