Barbie could dampen a young girl's career dreams

March 5, 2014, Springer

Although the marketing slogan suggests that Barbie can "Be Anything," girls who play with this extremely popular doll see fewer career options available to themselves compared to boys. So say Aurora Sherman of Oregon State University and Eileen Zurbriggen of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who conducted one of the first experiments on how playing with fashion dolls influences girls' perceptions about their future occupational options. The findings, which the psychologists describe as "sobering," are published in Springer's journal Sex Roles.

Sherman and Zurbriggen conducted their study in light of various occupations still being highly gender-segregated, and the worldwide prevalence of inequality in employment and earnings between genders. They used ' dolls play to study the impact of gender role socialization, a process through which children learn to abide by culturally prescribed norms and which perpetuates gender stereotypical behavior.

Thirty-seven girls from the US Pacific Northwest, aged between four to seven years old, were randomly assigned to play for five minutes with either a sexualized Doctor Barbie or Fashion Barbie doll, or with more a more neutral Mrs. Potato Head doll. The girls were then shown photographs of ten occupations and asked how many they themselves or boys could do in the future.

The girls who played with a Barbie doll – irrespective of whether it was dressed as a fashion model or a doctor – saw themselves in fewer occupations than are possible for boys. Those girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head reported nearly as many career options available for themselves as for boys.

The two Barbie dolls were identical except for clothing, with unrealistic bodies, extremely youthful and attractive faces, and long full hair. The researchers therefore believe that the doll itself trumps the role or suggested by its costume. This could be because of the well-defined Barbie perception that most young girls have about the doll's appearance and her sexually mature body shape. Sherman and Zurbriggen found the girls' response to be consistent with objectification theory according to which there is a restriction to women's sense of what is possible. The results are also line with a growing body of research showing that the possibility of being female and not sexy or objectified is becoming extremely difficult for adult women.

"Perhaps Barbie can 'Be Anything' as the advertising for this doll suggests, but girls who play with her may not apply these possibilities to themselves," says Sherman, who suggests that Barbie and similar dolls are part of the burden of early and inappropriate sexuality placed on girls. "Something about the type of doll, not characteristics of the participants, causes the difference in career aspirations."

Explore further: Study: Baby boys love dolls more than trucks

More information: Sex Roles DOI: 10.1007/s11199-014-0347-y

Related Stories

Study: Baby boys love dolls more than trucks

December 23, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—New research from the University of Western Sydney shows baby boys prefer objects with faces over machines, challenging the theory of an innate preference among babies for 'girly' or 'macho' toys.

Toy adverts still send out a sexist message

December 23, 2013
A study by researchers in Spain which analysed 595 toy advertisements broadcast on television at Christmas 2009, 2010 and 2011 showed that they promoted values that associate beauty with girls and strength and power with ...

Kids have skewed view of gender segregation

January 9, 2014
Children believe the world is far more segregated by gender than it actually is, implies a new study led by a Michigan State University scholar.

Recommended for you

Short-course treatment for combat-related PTSD offers expedited path to recovery

January 23, 2018
Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be debilitating and standard treatment can take months, often leaving those affected unable to work or care for their families. But, a new study demonstrated that many ...

Social and emotional skills linked to better student learning

January 23, 2018
Students with well-developed and adaptive social and emotional behaviours are most likely to excel in school, according to UNSW researchers in educational psychology.

Priming can negate stressful aspects of negative sporting environments, study finds

January 23, 2018
The scene is ubiquitous in sports: A coach yells at players, creating an environment where winning is the sole focus and mistakes are punished. New research from the University of Kansas shows that when participants find ...

Study of learning and memory problems in OCD helps young people unlock potential at school

January 22, 2018
Adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have widespread learning and memory problems, according to research published today. The findings have already been used to assist adolescents with OCD obtain the help ...

People with prosthetic arms less affected by common illusion

January 22, 2018
People with prosthetic arms or hands do not experience the "size-weight illusion" as strongly as other people, new research shows.

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.