ToysAndDiversity Square

Toy catalogues in Europe: Making or Breaking Stereotypes?


21 December 2016, Brussels – One year ago, we launched the #ToysAndDiversity project, made up of a social media campaign and the launch of a European study of toy catalogues, using a diversity lens. Why toys? Because early years are key in the social and cognitive development of every child and the impact that play and toys have on child development contribute to shape the child’s behaviour, interests and choices that he/she will make in later life. Therefore, to raise awareness and analyse the situation of representation of children in the media, we chose as a starting point toy catalogues. One year later, here are the results.

We analysed images of 3125 children across 32 catalogues in 9 countries: Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Key findings of the study include:

  • 12 catalogues, (37.5%) more than an third, had specific sections of toys “for boys” and “for girls” versus 20 catalogues (62.5%) having no specific sections. Most of those that are not formally divided into genders have, however, sections that are clearly marked by colours (pink and pastel colours for girls, darker and bolder colours for boys).
  • In 5 sections, boys were at least two thirds of the total children, respectively: videogames (67%), construction (69%), drones (72%), cars and transportations (74%), war and guns (88%). Girls were over the two thirds of total children only in two sections: care activities (87%) and beauty and grooming (94,5%).

On the sections on role-play and costumes, in catalogues that were divided into “toys for boys” and “toys for girls”: boys sections were filled with superheros, characters from TV shows and cartoons, but also professions that ranged from doctor to firefighter, policeman, mechanics. Girls sections had a number of characters from TV shows and cartoons, a few professions and a very high prevalence of princesses Out of 3125, 2908 were white children, 120 black, 59 of mixed race, 31 Asian, 7 middle-eastern. There was no child with disabilities.

Toys and Diversity – Six Principles

On the basis of the study, COFACE Families Europe developed six key principles with a view to raising awareness of our key concerns in relation to toy marketing and advertising. The headline principles are the following (see details here):

  1. Let children decide what they want to play with: No more division into boys and girls sections
  2. Do not channel children into stereotyped professions and life patterns: Let them play to be whomever they want to be
  3. Join your voice to end gender-based violence and bullying: promote non-violent images and behaviours
  4. Represent families in their diversity
  5. Children with disabilities play too: stop their invisibility and include them in the toy world
  6. Children with a diverse racial background: let’s move to a fair representation

General call to action for Xmas

We invite parents and families, primary buyers of toys, to closely consider our principles in order to be fully aware of the impact of the choices they make when buying presents this Christmas.

We call on industries directly and indirectly connected with the world of toys and children’s products (from producers to retailers, from advertisers to marketing and graphic design agencies) to closely consider using our six principles as guidance in the production and marketing of toys in the future. Their products and the image of society they give through their marketing can significantly contribute to making or breaking stereotypes, and this should be fully acknowledged.

We need a joint effort by industry, schools, NGOs, consumer associations, and families, to ensure children have the right to play without making pre-conceived assumptions about their choices and preferences.  We need to offer children the widest range possible of toys and let them choose  what to play with and who to become. Join us in raising awareness on the impact of toy marketing, by sending us your photos of positive or negative toy stereotypes or posting them online with the #ToysAndDiversity hashtag.

Download our Study on Toy Catalogues in Europe


Note to the editor
COFACE Families Europe is a network of civil society associations representing the interests of all families. COFACE Families Europe’s areas of work include social/family policy, education, disability, gender equality, migration, consumer issues, and also protection of children online, privacy, data protection and reflections on technological developments and how they may impact families. More:

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