1. prasad says

    Is there much evidence that the toy decisions made by parents have an impact upon the future careers of children? Given the tiny proportion of variation in outcomes attributable to parenting in general (and that encompasses much more than what toy your child plays with) I’d be surprised were this the case.

    One possibly interesting calibration scheme for intuitions here is the opposite experiences of male and female gay children. Gay boys are pushed to play with trucks just like straight ones, and lesbians get the princess aisle too. Indeed, gay boys and girls with any gender-nonconforming toy interests are _more_ strongly pushed by parents to play with the “right” set of toys for their sex.

    So let’s look at the double ratio. What is the proportion of gay to straight men in the sciences and engineering, and how does it compare to the proportion of gay to straight women in those fields? My (admittedly anecdotal, small N yada yada) impression is that outcomes are the opposite to what “toy theory” would predict – gay men are rather underrepresented among men in STEM, while gay women are somewhat overrepresented among women. This still leaves open most ideas for gender (or sexual orientation) differences in occupation, but I believe it puts a ceiling on the toy effect upon future career decisions – gay boys (girls) get trucks pushed upon them if anything more (less) but occupational decisions seem to go the other way.

  2. BrianH says

    I agree, the likely effect of any one toy is pretty small–as someone else said about this in a blog post I can’t locate now, we can’t buy our way to gender equality. At most it’s a bit of chipping away at a huge problem. And there’s evidence that women who do go into STEM fields are more likely to go into medicine or biology than physics or engineering. But I’ve talked with a lot of freshmen women who were getting no support or encouragement at all from their families because they “should have been” studying nursing or getting teacher training instead of studying IT or computer science. (I’m teaching faculty, computer science dept., public university.) It’s like Computer Engineer Barbie with the bright green geek glasses and pink laptop–it’s not perfect, but I’ll take what progress I can get. Anything that pushes the message they don’t *have* to be princesses is OK with me. But the push for kids to have gender “appropriate” toys is only one small part of the problem, so fixing that is only one small part of the solution.

    And the video *is* fun.

  3. byomtov says


    Thanks for the suggestion. And just in time for Chanukah.

    Have you actually bought one of these kits, or seen it in action? OK for an (obviously highly gifted) five-and-half year old, do you think (they say 4 to 9 but I wonder)?

  4. Mike says

    My wife (MA, EE) loved it. She ended up doing computer engineering professionally, instead of electrical engineering, more by finding a good niche and working her way through the system. Her sister is the girly one, with her MD.

    I don’t think the question here is about reinforcing gender roles or not. Who plays with which toys and ends up gay or straight is irrelevant. It’s whether women ever get a sense of all the possibilities they have and the chance to use their imagination to get there, no matter where that might take them.

    No toy is going to guarantee that slot at Stanford, for instance. That sort of reductionism is behind the idea our schools can fix all the kids whose families our society fails to provide for. Where one ends up in life is not so much about the bell curve as it is the income curve in the US. There’s little social mobility and access to high quality education is increasingly governed by pay-to-play, rather than by either competition or egalitarian ideals.

    Perhaps we need toys to inspire the children of the middle class, working class, and poor, too?

  5. Don says

    I got this toy for my granddaughter for her birthday. I don’t have an opinion on whether it’ll turn her into an engineer; I just don’t want to play with Disney princesses when I go visit.

    • Joe says

      Amen. But then, I’m not actually allowed to play princesses with my nieces any more. I kept making the dolls behave like real European princesses, and the bloodshed was grossing them out. Except for J___, who loved it and for whom I have great hopes.