OSU study links Barbie dolls to girls thinking they have fewer career options

2014-03-06T07:30:00Z 2014-03-06T07:39:09Z OSU study links Barbie dolls to girls thinking they have fewer career optionsBy Anthony Rimel, Corvallis Gazette-Times Corvallis Gazette Times

A new Oregon State University study of girls study of girls ages 4 to 7 indicates there’s a link between girls who play with Barbie dolls and their subsequent view that they don’t have as many career options as do boys.

Aurora M. Sherman, an associate professor in the School of Psychological Science at OSU, said the study joins a small but growing body of research looking at fashion dolls and the unintended messages they might send.

Findings of the research, conducted by Sherman with Eileen L. Zurbriggen of the University of California, Santa Cruz, were published Wednesday in the journal “Sex Roles.”

Sherman, the lead researcher of the study of 37 local school girls, indicated that playing with Barbie has an effect on girls’ ideas about their place in the world, Sherman said Wednesday. She also noted that playing with the doll seems to limit girls’ sense of what’s possible for their future.

“While it’s not a massive effect, it is a measurable and statistically significant effect,” she said.

The girls in the study were randomly assigned either a fashion Barbie, a Barbie dressed as a doctor, or a Mrs. Potato Head. They spent five to 10 minutes playing with their assigned doll. After play sessions, the girls were asked questions about which jobs they could do, and which jobs they thought boys could do.

Sherman said the researchers used U.S. Census data to form a list of 10 professions, half of which are statistically dominated by men — such as construction worker and airline pilot — and half of which are dominated by women, such as librarian and teacher.

The study found that girls who played with either type of Barbie had a reduction in the number of occupations that they saw as possibilities for themselves.

Sherman said she was surprised by how large the difference was between the career possibilities that girls who played with Barbie dolls envisioned for themselves compared with the career outlook of girls who’d played with the less-sexualized Mrs. Potato Head Dolls.

Sherman added that she also was surprised that there was no difference between results from girls who played with the career-oriented Barbie and the fashion Barbie.

Sherman said the amount of research about the messages sent by fashion dolls such as Barbies is growing.

She is working on two other studies in the area — one that looks at how different toys affect the value that young girls place on thinness, and another that examines how sexualized and non-sexualized dolls affect girls’ academic performance.

Sherman said she doesn’t think parents should throw out Barbie dolls, but rather that their children, regardless of gender, should be offered a variety of toys, including puzzles and games.

“Forbidding things (just) makes them more attractive,” she said.

Barbie dolls have attracted many controversial observations since the first one was introduced in 1959 — and almost immediately drew criticism from people who saw it as too sexual to be a suitable toy for young girls because of its unusually wasp-waisted, big-busted and leggy appearance.

A message left Wednesday at Mattel Inc. headquarters in El Segundo, Calif., seeking comment on the study, wasn’t returned by close of business.

Anthony Rimel covers K-12 education. He can be reached at 541-758-9526 or anthony.rimel@lee.net.

Copyright 2014 Corvallis Gazette Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(9) Comments

  1. nocapes
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    nocapes - March 12, 2014 8:42 am
    This is a good pilot study. I'd like to see a larger scope in the sample group though. Dolls are a way for humans to get outside of themselves. They serve a purpose. I think few females, once grown, believe they want to look like Barbie…or like a Cabbage Patch kid for that matter…I do understand though the patriarchy in creating a girls' child's toy that looks like a male's sexual fantasy. Very weird the culture we live in and girls are just beginning to rise. Barbie won't be around too much longer I bet.
  2. peppertree
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    peppertree - March 08, 2014 1:03 pm
    Beaverchamp makes the same point I would. This "study" (of only 37 girls, for 10 minutes) shouldn't even qualify as a junior high science project.

    And what was the age range of the 37 girls?

    For the record, I've never been a Barbie fan. They were foisted on the world when I was a 9 year old girl. I hated Barbie dolls at first sight, and have never been able to see any "value" in either the doll or the supposed "message" the doll is supposed to convey to little girls. However, this "study" really doesn't deserve coverage in a newspaper.
  3. KLB
    Report Abuse
    KLB - March 07, 2014 1:42 pm
    I played with Barbie dolls for many years. I had four of them and two Ken dolls, I made all of their clothes. I don' t appreciate being called a loser because of it. By the way I am a woman who owns a successful business in a male dominated field and I get to boss around ten men everyday. I think the State needs to put our money to better use.
  4. katerer1324
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    katerer1324 - March 07, 2014 7:07 am
    So...this determination was made from a pool of 37 local girls who were asked to play with a doll for 10 minutes. TEN MINUTES?? 37 GIRLS???
    Are you kidding? Was this article a joke? Did it seriously make the front page with this large, obnoxious photo of our local newspaper? This wouldn't pass for a jr. high science project. What a waste of time indeed. Can't we do better, GT? OSU? A. Sherman???
  5. Beaverchamp
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    Beaverchamp - March 06, 2014 9:24 pm
    A pool of 37?! Shame on you GT For publishing this story. It has the credibility of a Survey Monkey survey. It is not science and the University and the Liberal Arts College should be embarrassed.
  6. captain america
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    captain america - March 06, 2014 5:21 pm
    What about the guys that played with Barbie? Will this get you another 5 million for your research? Sorry, MR ED will just raise tuition to cover you. With" vote yes" on everything Cliff.
  7. AmericanMom61
    Report Abuse
    AmericanMom61 - March 06, 2014 3:46 pm
    Really? What with all the many different Barbies out there? I think this is anti-Barbie propoganda put out by feminists who haven't left the 1970s yet. It's a doll, for pete's sake. Parents, if your kids are limiting career options based on toys, guess whos fault it is? Look in the mirror.
  8. Harry Mallory
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    Harry Mallory - March 06, 2014 2:42 pm
    Well, the science is settled then isnt it? Funny how the "research" uniformly fits the pre-assumed political narrative. Break out the free trade wine and bree, this is cause for celebration!
  9. JunkYouStart
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    JunkYouStart - March 06, 2014 12:40 pm
    What?! You mean because I played with Barbie now I'm not as wise as my friends who didn't play with Barbie. OH NO! What shall I do!?

    This is the lamest article I have seen. (well maybe) Ya know whats really sad, they no doubt given a grant from our tax dollars to do this research.
    Also read the article and find the information that states all the statistics.

    "Sherman, the lead researcher of the study of 37 local school girls, indicated that playing with Barbie has an effect on girls’ ideas about their place in the world, Sherman said Wednesday. She also noted that playing with the doll seems to limit girls’ sense of what’s possible for their future."


    *This is fact at the age of 4?
    37 girls thats what this is based on. 37. come on.... really
    What a waste of time.
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