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Barbie dolls narrowing girls' career horizons? (2014-03-24)

Girls who play with Barbie dolls tend to see fewer career options available to them compared with the options available to boys, according to a new study by researchers at Oregon State University and the University of California, Santa Cruz.

The study's authors, psychology professors Aurora Sherman of Oregon State and Eileen Zurbriggen at UC Santa Cruz, describe their findings as “sobering.” Their article “‘Boys Can Be Anything’: Effect of Barbie Play on Girls' Career Cognitions,” appears online in the Springer journal Sex Roles published March 5.

Play with Barbie dolls is an understudied source of gendered socialization that may convey a sexualized adult world to young girls.
Early exposure to sexualized images may have unintended consequences in the form of perceived limitations on future selves. Researchers investigated perceptions of careers girls felt they could do in the future as compared to the number of careers they felt boys could do as a function of condition (playing with a Barbie or Mrs. Potato Head doll) and type of career (male dominated or female dominated) in a sample of 37 U.S. girls aged 4–7 years old residing in the Pacific Northwest. After a randomly assigned 5-min exposure to condition, children were asked how many of ten different occupations they themselves could do in the future and how many of those occupations a boy could do. Data were analyzed with a 2×2×2 mixed factorial ANOVA.

Averaged across condition, girls reported that boys could do significantly more occupations than they could themselves, especially when considering male-dominated careers. In addition, girls’ ideas about careers for themselves compared to careers for boys interacted with condition, such that girls who played with Barbie indicated that they had fewer future career options than boys, whereas girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head reported a smaller difference between future possible careers for themselves as compared to boys.

Results support predictions from gender socialization and objectification theories.

For more information
“Boys Can Be Anything”: Effect of Barbie Play on Girls’ Career Cognitions