Gender of kids, gender of parents (via color preference)

The Archives of Sexual Behavior has published my paper, “Children’s Gender and Parents’ Color Preferences,” as an online-first article. The abstract is up here, but the paper is paywalled — let me know if you’d like one of my personal copies and I’ll be glad to send it to you.

I did the research because I was interested in the effect that today’s strongly-gendered parenting might have on the adults who live in the color-coded worlds of their children. Also, I was looking for a simple way to test whether, or to what extent, color preferences were variable in adulthood (rather than genetic), and the gender of children seemed like a good, mostly-random experiment to test that.

Anyway, here is the basic breakdown of how my 749 parent respondents answered the online question, “Which color do you most prefer?” The colors here are the same ones they saw online (individual monitors vary, of course), ordered according to relative gender preference:

Pink, purple and red tend more female; green, blue and orange tend more male. In the statistical tests, with an age control, only blue, red, purple and pink had big enough gender differences to reach 95% confidence.

Then I compared people who had boys only and girls only to those who had a mix of boys and girls. The result was most clear for women: those with boys only had more “female” preferences — preferred pink more and blue less. For men, having either boys-only or girls-only increased their odds of preferring blue.

Here’s the pattern for women (with no controls):

The article has little in the way of discussion and speculation — the text is only six journal pages. My post-hoc interpretation is that gender-heavy environments (single-gender gaggles of children) push parents in gender-stereotypical directions. Maybe. I would be happy to hear your thoughts.

Start to finish: 750 days

This is the only time I’ve ever collected my own data for a project and seen it all the way to publication. For those interested in the process, this is how it went:

  • March 17, 2010: Working on the chapter about gender for my family sociology textbook, I blogged about the research I was reading regarding color preferences.
  • April 18, 2010: More blogging, this time about the far-fetched evolutionary psychology I was reading on the reasons for gendered color preferences.
  • April 21, 2010: Posted the survey online at, launched with a blog post and other social media.
  • April 26, 2010: Submitted an application to my local Institutional Review Board for permission to do the survey.
  • May 3, 2010: After one minor revision, the IRB approved it, and that gave me the green light for a UNC email blast.
  • May 4, 2010: “What’s Your Favorite Color?” email blast to UNC students, staff and faculty. More than 1,000 responses on the first day.
  • September 16, 2010: Stopped collecting responses. (The survey is still up there, though, drifting unmanned around the Internet, gathering data like so many comments on a dead blog.)
  • February 4, 2011: Submitted manuscript to Archives of Sexual Behavior.
  • June 21, 2011: Nudged the editor to see what was up with the review.
  • July 16, 2011: Received a revise-and-resubmit decision.
  • September 28, 2011: Resubmitted.
  • February 11, 2012: Received provisional acceptance.
  • March 7, 2012: Resubmitted.
  • March 19, 2012: Received proofs from the journal to review.
  • April 5, 2012: Article published online.

9 thoughts on “Gender of kids, gender of parents (via color preference)

  1. gender-heavy environments … push parents in gender-stereotypical directions.

    That was my first thought, too, from a need to defend their “genderness” from the numerical superiority of the “other”.


  2. I would have liked to see a women with no children control on the women with children graph. I’m going back forth between your men and women graph and your women with children graph trying to take in the information….

    PS: I just came across your blog and love it. Thank you for doing this. (Though you now owe me an hour of sleep.)


  3. I didn’t realize children’s toys are binary color-coded until I was an adult. My name is Ivy and my sister is Ruby. So after her birth, I got green items and she got red items, and, in the event red and green weren’t available, we got the next closest things: I got blue items and she got pink items. (She now hates red, but we both like green and blue.) It makes me curious how many of our childhood toys were stereotypically “for boys” or “for girls;” since we were outside the stereotypical color coding, did that give us wider access to toys?

    There is concern that girls are limited to only pink things. I was limited to only green/blue things, but this came about only after my sister was born; before, I had objects of a range of colors (I don’t remember if they were biased toward red/pink or not). I felt resentment about this as a teenager, but it sure made my mom’s shopping easier, especially for Christmas-related items!

    I wonder what color decision my mother would have made if my sister were a brother instead.


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