Boring girl toys

Manufacturers lament a shrinking toy market for girls, who outgrow toys quicker than boys.


Sarah Elizabeth Richards
April 4, 2006 6:29PM (UTC)

Take it from a woman who knows: Boy toys are fun. No, Im not talking about that kind. Im talking about the kind your brothers got while you tried to get excited about kissing stuffed koala bears. When I was growing up, Christmas meant ditching my puppy posters and new nightgowns to play with their bounty: yellow Tonka dump trucks, Fisher Price's Little People garage, electric racetracks and He-Man's Castle Grayskull with voice modulator.

So it was no surprise for me to read in Sunday's Washington Post that toy makers are having a tough time selling to girls. (Case in point: Last year's Crayola "Girlfitti" line of stationary.) The culprits range from an industry dominated by male executives who have little idea what girls want to a phenomenon called "age compression" in which kids outgrow their toys quicker than in the past.

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"The result is that Barbie, which used to be a doll that 7- and 8-year-olds would play with for hours, is now the domain of 3-year-olds," writes the Post's Margaret Webb Pressler. But boys, "thanks to their unwavering interest in building things and wrecking things, in things that move fast and things that fight," are an easier target. They don't outgrow their toys until age 12, compared with age 8 for girls.

To bolster a $21 billion industry that suffered a 4 percent drop in sales last year, toy makers are banking on technology to produce gender-neutral toys -- such as LeapFrog's Fly Pentop Computer or Zizzle's iZ speaker system for iPods, which sold well last holiday season. They're also trying to spice up traditional girl offerings by making Playmates Toys' Amazing Amanda doll interactive and introducing an electronic Barbie diary.

But they're still putting more resources into developing better toys for their most reliable customers -- boys. For example, Spin Master makes kick-ass remote-control vehicles -- including "trucks that climb walls, little helicopters that hover perfectly and vehicles that can go from land to water to air with astonishing speed."

In response to such toy disparity, Pressler wonders: "Are girls moving out of toys earlier because the toys aren't good enough? Or are the toys for girls less interesting because the girls have left the market?"

What do you think?


Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at sarah@saraherichards.com.

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