Curry Prof Jamie Jirout discusses the impact of gender-specific toy marketing in article from National Geographic.
Targeting toys by gender has consequences beyond socialization. A 2015 study found that boys are more likely to play with toys that develop spatial intelligence—K’nex, puzzles, Lego bricks—than girls are. Marketing can certainly play a role, says study author Jamie Jirout, a developmental psychologist at the University of Virginia. The girl-oriented product line Lego Friends focuses on playacting rather than construction; aisles in some toy stores distinguish “building sets” from “girls’ building sets.”
Boys also appear to play differently. According to a 2012 study by Susan Levine, a professor of education and psychology at the University of Chicago, boys opt to play with more complex puzzles—and get more spatially related encouragement from their parents. Parents are more likely to use words that foster spatial thinking—tall, big, edge, top, and bottom—when their children play with more challenging puzzles.