Do Toys Impact Our Careers?

When you were young, did you play with Barbies or Legos? Did you have the option to play with non-traditional gender-based toys? 

At a recent meeting of women business owners a brief discussion began that led to what toys the women played with as children. The woman who is a mechanical engineer said that she avoided playing with dolls and hated playing “school” with her older sister (who has become a teacher) and preferred playing with blocks and an erector-set. While one woman who enjoys writing and art played with dolls well into her middle school years.

Do the toys we provide for our children pigeon hole them into certain career paths?

In an article from the BBC, the subject is expanded on with the end decision being pretty clear:

Education minister Elizabeth Truss recently warned children’s toys could affect their careers. She said gender-specific toys risked turning girls off science and maths and urged parents to buy their daughters Lego to get them interested in engineering.

Women have made great strides in the UK workforce over the past few decades, but there are still overwhelming gender divides in some professions. Just over 80% of “science, research, engineering and technology professionals” are male, according to ONS figures.

By contrast, 82% of workers in “caring, leisure and other services”, and 78% of administrative and secretarial workers are female.

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Many studies on the subject suggest selecting simple, fuss-free toys for children to allow them to use their imagination. Legos has just created a new toy set that helps children mix and match gender and careers. The set includes:

  • 256-piece LEGO Education community minifigure set
  • Includes parts to build 22 multicultural male and female minifigures representing different community roles to help students role-play exploring gender, ethnicity, and occupations

 So do the toys our children play with have an influence on the careers they chose? 

Becky Francis, professor of education at Roehampton University, believes so.

“Different types of toys give different messages about what’s appropriate for boys and girls to do, and have different educational content – both elements are important and might have a bearing on schooling and career choices later,” she says.

small study she conducted found boys tended to be given toys that involved action, construction and machinery, while girls were steered towards dolls and perceived “feminine” interests, such as hairdressing.

The message seemed to be boys should be making things and problem solving, and girls should be caring and nurturing, she says.

Also, stereotypical “boys toys” tend to be more educational, she argues. “Boys toys tend to contain didactic information, with technical instructions and fitting things together with Lego and Meccano, whereas girls’ toys tend to be around imaginative and creative play, which develop different skills,” she says.

What did you play with as a child? What toys are you making available to your sons and daughters?

Live Strong shares information about Toys and their Impact on Child Development.

As your child demonstrates preferences for specific types of toys and play responses, provide her with a variety of toys that encourage a wide range of play opportunities, recommends the National Association for the Education of Young Children. For example, vary activity toys such as balls, tricycles and wagons that promote gross motor skills, with creativity toys like crayons, paints and cardboard boxes. Parents encourage their child to venture outside of the child’s play comfort zone when they initiate or join in their child’s play.

Even in our child’s earliest years the toys they play with have an influence on their skills, interest and eventual career choices. That isn’t to say we should avoid giving girls dolls and boys trucks, it just means we should offer a variety of toys that allow them to explore a different ways to interact.

Did the toys you play with have an impact on your career choice?