The Declining Gender Gap

When it comes to gender differences, how much is “nature” versus “nurture”?  Are girls naturally more attuned to domestic life, while boys are more adventurous?  While these notions may persist in parts of adult culture, many of these differences are now viewed as “stereotypes” or “gender roles” (amenable to change rather than “hard-wired”) and in some countries there have been efforts to combat this. So do they define today’s kids?

With the exception of a few holdouts in play with traditional toys, this survey reveals that the gender gap is closing when it comes to values/aspirations, technology and leisure.

Values: For the most part, boys and girls want the same things in life.

“Girls are into family, friends, being nice and school, while boys are more competitive and adventurous.” Stereotypes? Apparently so. When asked to select the “3 things that are most important to them” (from a list of 15), both boys and girls across the globe select:

#1 Being a happy family”.

#2 “Having lots of friends”

#3 “ Being a nice person”.

The only difference was that girls wanted them slightly more.

Both also highly valued “being smart” and “getting a good education”.  However, there were a few  differences in some of the less dominant values (that are consistent with gender stereotypes). The biggest differences:  boys were more interested in “being good at sports”, “being rich” and “inventing something new”, while girls were more interested in “having a special talent”.

Looking just at the U.S., we see a very similar pattern.  One noteworthy difference, however, was that for U.S. kids, there was no gender gap for “happy family”.  Both boys and girls equally value “being a happy family”.

% Global Kids Choosing “Their Top 3″ Values

 

Technology: Boys aren’t the only “tech heads” anymore.

The survey shows usage of electronic devices is very similar for girls and boys – the difference is generally as little as 1-2%. When it comes to embracing technology, boys are more into gaming (handheld gaming devices and consoles), while music appeals more to girls. But that gap is closing, thanks to more girl-friendly video game titles and the Nintendo Wii.

Personal ownership of electronic devices shows a similar pattern.  On average, boys and girls own about the same number of devices (4.2 items on a global basis for both genders; in the U.S. girls own slightly more (5 items) than boys (4.5 items).  And, there are no gender differences in the types of devices they own, except boys are more likely to own game consoles, while girls own more music players (MP3/iPods, stereos, CD players) and digital cameras.

 

% of Global Kids Who Personally Own Devices – By Gender

 

 

Digital Activities: Girls and boys generally do the same things.

Both girls and boys use the computer for a wide array of activities, especially entertainment (playing games and watching videos). Debunking the stereotype, boys are not more sophisticated on the computer. However, they are more inclined to experiment with more functions on their mobile phones. Boys will try GPS mapping, downloading apps, and social networking, but there are few gender differences for the more popular functions (e.g, playing games, taking/sending pictures, making calls, listening to music).

 

% of Global Kids Who Do Mobile Phone Activity – By Gender

 

Restrictions on technology:  Parents are fairly egalitarian when it comes to imposing restrictions on their child’s technology use.

Overall, parents are imposing a number of restrictions on kids in their use of technology—mostly in terms of online shopping, downloading apps and communications (e.g., social networking, chatting). While girls appear to be directionally more restricted than their male counterparts in a few areas, for the most part parents are treating them the same.

Interestingly, here, the U.S. is a bit of an anomaly.  While parents aren’t more restrictive with girls for computers; they do tend to be more restrictive when it comes to sharing photos/videos, downloading apps, using GPS and connecting to the internet from their mobile phone.

 

Money:  When it comes to pocket money, girls have nearly closed the “wage gap”

Overall, boys and girls are on a level “paying” field. On average, the weekly allowance is $5.66 for girls and $5.93 for boys. There is also no gender difference among “low earners” and “high earners”.  Girls and boys are equally likely to receive $0 weekly allowance (33% versus 34%, respectively) or the top weekly allowance of $16+ (6% versus 7%, respectively).  This pattern is not only global, but true in the U.S.– a land where “equal pay for women” is still an issue.

 

Activities:   Kids are moving beyond gendered roles and activities.

 It’s no longer just girls that shop and boys that camp.

Looking at what activities kids do in their free time, we see that many of the traditionally female activities (such as shopping, cooking and gardening) are being done by lots of boys.  Similarly, a number of stereotypical male activities (such as camping, playing a sport, outdoor activities like fishing or hiking, video gaming) are being done by lots of girls.

Only two of the activities (out of 30) where there were significant gender differences were:  pampering (still mostly for girls) and skateboarding (still mostly for boys).

 

% Global Kids Doing Activity – By Gender

 

Girls and boys also LIKE to do many of the same things.

When asked about favorite activities, the top ones were very similar.

                                             Boys                                          Girls

#1 favorite            Playing Video Games                 Watching TV

#2 favorite                   Watching TV                          Swimming

#3 favorite          Playing on the Internet       Playing on the Internet

 

While girls are less likely to play a sport (82% for girls vs. 90% for boys) or participate in organized sports (55% for girls vs. 69% for boys), this gap is less than many of us would expect.  Plus, their top 3 favorite sports are the same.

                                             Boys                                         Girls

#1 favorite                     Swimming                              Swimming

#2 favorite                 Football/Soccer                          Cycling

#3 favorite                       Cycling                             Football/Soccer

 

And, there are few differences in the more popular sports that kids play (for pleasure).  The only sports with noticeable gender differences are:

-Boys are more likely to do:  football/soccer, skateboarding, basketball and marital arts

-Girls are more likely to do: ice skating and gymnastics

Within the U.S. we see very similar patterns (in terms of activities), with the exception that the gap in sports participation is bigger. Girls are much less likely to play sports for leisure than boys in the U.S. However, in organized sports, it is comparable to that found globally.

The big holdout:  Traditional toys are still strongly gendered

One place where we see significant gender differences is in traditional toys.  There are still BIG differences in what toys kids like to play with—despite all the moms who have thrust baby dolls at their boys and Hot Wheels at their girls.

 

Top 3 Favorite Toy Categories – By Gender


Interestingly, these differences are very consistent around the world, though the gaps are bigger in some countries than others.

 

Overall country differences

While there are some differences in specific responses for specific countries in this study, the general patterns discussed in terms of gender differences are true across the board.

 

Implications for marketers

Many of these traditional gender stereotypes are simply not holding up across the globe with this group, and failure to understand that could lead to brand alienation. It’s important to be cognizant not to assume gender stereotypes with communications and activations targeted to today’s global kids.

Products that have broad youth appeal across genders have the opportunity to tap into insights and possibly communicate in a way that works for both boys and girls.

Technology mediums are going to be critical to reach BOTH boys and girls going forward – from gaming platforms to smartphones.  However, these are choppy waters to tread as many parents are limiting the exposure to, or are concerned with, the specific ways brands communicate with their kids through these channels.

The way to capture the attention of both boys and girls in the digital arena (and beyond) is through play.  Gamifying communications and content will not only increase awareness but also retention and shareability as well.

Global youth brands appealing to both boys and girls may have an opportunity to efficiently and effectively support, sponsor, and activate around activities such as swimming, football (American soccer), and cycling.

 

  • Amy Lakoff

    very interesting topic