Color gender by the numbers

Men and women weigh in on their favorite colors.

Update: I’m curious. Will you take a color preference survey here?

More on the many mysteries of pink and blue, this time from college students expressing their own preferences, rather than adults’ choices for children.

This research is from 2001, but I just stumbled on it. In a survey of 5,000 college students from several dozen universities, men and women were asked to express, on an open-ended form, their favorite color.

MEN                                                     WOMEN

Favorite colors for college students, 1990s.

Other responses not shown (4% of men, 5% of women). My chart from data in the article.

These men have a strong blue preference; the women are more diverse in their choices. Proportionally, the biggest differences are on pink (women 10.6-times more likely to choose) and blue (men 1.8-times more likely).

Here is the interpretation of the authors:

Without ruling out any possibility at this point, we are inclined to suspect the involvement of neurohormonal factors. Studies of rats have found average sex differences in the number of neurons comprising various parts of the visual cortex. Also, gender differences have been found in rat preferences for the amount of sweetness in drinking water. One experiment demonstrated that the sex differences in rat preferences for sweetness was eliminated by depriving males of male-typical testosterone levels in utero. Perhaps, prenatal exposure to testosterone and other sex hormones operates in a similar way to “bias” preferences for certain colors in humans.

You really have to love it. Although it’s not as far gone as the speculation that color preferences evolved from the gender division of labor in the hunter-gathering prehistory, it’s not a theory well suited to the rapid historical change we’ve seen in the case of dressing children, at least.

If I were making up an explanation, I’d say maybe these college students were generally pushed toward girl-pink/boy-blue from infancy, and then the girls more actively incorporated color choice into their identities (the idea of having a “favorite color”) — resulting in greater diversity of choices. On the other hand, maybe boys were more likely not to have a color affinity in their identity toolbox and thus are more likely to have a stuck-in-childhood response that matches the preference their parents had for them, or one they consider socially desirable. How’s that?

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