The role of parents in the emergence of sex differences in children’s play: Interrelations among parental attitudes, parental toy choices, and children’s toy preferences.

Change log
Beneda, Marta 

Girls and boys tend to play with different toys. In general, girls prefer dolls, domestic toys, and beauty sets more than boys do, whereas boys prefer toy vehicles, construction toys, toy weapons, and sports-related toys more than girls do. Several mechanisms have been suggested to contribute to the development of these sex differences. Much research has focused on the role of parental socialisation finding that parents provide their sons and daughters with access to, and encourage them to play with, different toys. However, although studies consistently find evidence for this differential treatment of sons and daughters, it is unclear what factors might be influencing these parental behaviours. Moreover, although many scholars believe that parental gender-typed socialisation contributes to sex differences in toy preferences, few studies have examined the actual link between parents’ behaviours and their children’s sex-typed play. This dissertation sought to address these gaps. Specifically, it examined the role of parental attitudes in parents’ choices of gender-typed toys for their children. It also explored the link between parental provision of gender-typed toys and children’s sex-typed play. Lastly, it examined sex differences in children’s toy and play behaviours in new cultural contexts. The research was conducted online among primary caregivers of children aged between one and three years in four countries: the United Kingdom (N = 721; 695 mothers, 25 fathers, 1 other relative), Poland (N = 553; 505 mothers, 45 fathers), North Macedonia (N = 267; 250 mothers, 15 fathers, 2 other relatives), and Egypt (N = 196; 165 mothers, 27 fathers, 4 other relatives). Results indicated that parents’ egalitarian/liberal attitudes were significant negative predictors of the extent to which parents’ toy choices (real-life and hypothetical) were gender-typed. However, their predictive power was rather low, especially in the case of real-life choices. Some differences between contexts were observed. Regarding child behaviour, gender-typing in parents’ toy choices was positively predictive of children’s sex-typed toy preferences and play behaviours. The predictive power of toy choice variables was high in the case of toy preferences and low-to-moderate in the case of play behaviours. Few differences between contexts were found. Finally, in all countries, boys and girls differed significantly in their toy and play preferences. Girls had more feminine (or less masculine) toy preferences than boys did, and this effect was very large in all samples. Further, boys displayed more masculine (or less feminine) play behaviours than girls did, and this effect varied from large to very large. Theoretical and methodological implications of these results are discussed.

Hines, Melissa
parental attitudes, parental socialisation, sex differences, toy preferences
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Economic and Social Research Council (1941929)
ESRC (1941929)