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Gender Segregation of Toys Is on the Rise

Charting the use of "toys for boys" and "toys for girls" in American English.
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(Photo: Mikhail Rulkov/Shutterstock)

(Photo: Mikhail Rulkov/Shutterstock)

Some nice news has come out lately that the occasional toy store is taking the words boy and girl off of their aisle signs—mostly in Sweden, I say half-jokingly—but Google ngrams suggests that we’re nowhere near backing off of separating children’s toys by sex.

Sociologist Philip Cohen graphed the frequency of “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” relative to “toys for children.” This is just language, and it’s just American English, but it’s one indication that the consciousness-raising efforts of organizations like Let Toys Be Toys is still on the margins of mainstream society.


As you can see from the graph, the extent to which children are actively talked about as gendered subjects varies over time.

One explanation for why companies resist androgynous toys and clothes for children—and arguably adults, too—has to do with money. If parents with a boy and a girl could get away with one set of toys, they wouldn’t need to buy a second. And if they could hand down clothes from girls to boys and vice versa, they would buy less clothes. The same could be said for borrowing and trading between family members and friends.

It would really cut into the profits of these companies if we believed that all items for children were interchangeable. They work hard to sustain the lie that they are not.

This post originally appeared on Sociological Images, a Pacific Standard partner site, as “Chart of the Week: Gender Segregation of Toys Is On the Rise.”