Majority of Christmas toy catalogues play to gender stereotypes, study finds

An analysis of this year’s Christmas toy catalogues shows girls are twice as likely to be shown playing in kitchens, reinforcing out-of-date stereotypes.

With the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) introducing new rules to crackdown on gender stereotypes in advertising and the likes of Unilever making bold changes to improve the way women are portrayed in its ads, the marketing industry has shown it is open to change.

However, a new study from Let Toys Be Toys, shows this year’s Christmas catalogues are still a long way from avoiding gender stereotyping children.

Having reviewed toy catalogues from brands including Argos, Toys R Us, Smyths Toys, Early Learning Centre and Tesco, the study shows girls are twice as likely to be shown with kitchens or other ‘domestic’ toys. In fact, girls are seven times more likely than boys to be shown taking part in caring or nurturing play, and 12 times more likely to be shown playing with baby dolls.

Unsurprisingly, on the flip side boys are four times more likely to be shown playing with cars. Boys also account for 97% of the children shown playing with guns and war toys. In total, only one boy was shown with a doll, with male children twice as likely to be shown playing alongside construction toys.

READ MORE: Brands face crackdown on gender stereotypes in advertising

Let Toys Be Toys campaigner Jess Day says: “If 85% of young women aged 11 to 21 think the advertising industry should stop using gender stereotypes to sell toys [according to a Girguiding study] then toy manufacturers urgently need to get up to date as these young women will be buying toys for the next generation.

“If catalogues encourage adults to rely on gender as a guide to interests, adults can also end up feeling obliged to stick to narrow stereotypes about what boys and girls are ‘meant’ to like.

“Teaching children early that there are boys’ things and girls’ things has long-lasting effects. According to research from the Young Women’s Trust, younger women have more stereotyped ideas about jobs (such as being housewives) than older women – this means the stereotypes we learn in childhood take a long time to shake off.”

There are some small signs of progress. In the 2016 study of Christmas toy catalogues, Let Toys Be Toys says 11% of children shown with toy cars were girls. However, this year, the figure has risen to 19%. And in 2016, only one catalogue featured a boy playing with a baby doll – this rises to three catalogues this year.

Day adds: “Retailers need to be mindful of the overall effect of a catalogue spread or section dedicated to a specific gender. If only girls or only boys are shown in a particular section, children will draw their own conclusions. There still needs to be a lot more mixed gender thinking around toys.”

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here