Keeping Up with Changing Gender Norms

Most of our clients in the kids industry use demographics to understand what makes their audiences tick. That mostly means looking at age and gender. Age nuances make a ton of sense, given all the aspects of child development that are timeless truths. The average social-emotional, cognitive, and physical skill set of a seven-year-old will always be behind that of the average 11-year-old. So you can and should tailor your offerings accordingly.

But when it comes to gender, norms are changing every day, and kids are more and more emboldened and outspoken about doing their own thing. Embracing a gender-welcoming mindset can mean the difference between flat and impressive earnings.

We recently surveyed 1,200 U.S. parents of kids aged 2–16 and 1,000 kids aged 5–16 to get an understanding of kids’ passions. Analysis by gender opened a window into sizable minorities among fandom in typically gendered categories.

Following are a few important truths that emerged.

Passions = Content Engagement

Kids engage with content that ties into their passions almost as much as they engage with those passions in real life. So what kids like does correlate with what kids check out online.

Weekly engagement with different passions (Kids 5-12):

Info graphic comparing kids' passions in real life and online.

In general, we also see that what kids are passionate about correlates with the kinds of products they request and purchase.

Gender Disparity Is Alive and Well

Unsurprisingly, some topics are more polarizing by gender than others. Topics with a major gender disparity (a 20+ percentage point difference) among the 5–12 set include cooking, videogames, theater/dance, superheroes, fashion/style, makeup, and DIY/crafting/art.

Info graphic showing kids' interest in different topics by gender.

Gender Polarizing Is Far From Gender Exclusive

At the same time, for every gender-polarizing category, there is a sizable minority of the opposite gender that engages with it. For example, fashion/style and makeup are the most polarized topics, skewing heavily toward girls. Yet both of those categories still have enough boy engagement to make a difference in business.

In the makeup category, 13% of boys engage with makeup-related activities or content at least weekly. And 5% have tried, bought, or asked their parents for makeup after seeing makeup-related content online. For fashion/style, 19% of boys engage with the category weekly, and 11% have tried, bought, or asked their parents for fashion/style items they’ve seen online.

For more balanced but still skewed categories, the windfalls can be even stronger. While both the superhero and videogame arenas lean boy, 42% of girls aged 5–12 engage with superheroes and 62% engage with videogames. Efforts by these industries to represent and welcome girls are paying off. (The gaming gender gap increases significantly among teens, showing there is still work to be done to welcome girls in teen-targeted gaming.)

What To Do

It’s no surprise that many businesses still concentrate on one gender or the other, especially if marketing resources are limited. But some simple steps for welcoming the opposite gender cost little to nothing. The only major thing that needs to change is mindset.

Some ideas:

  • Ensure a mix of boys and girls in advertising and on packaging, even if your offering is pink
  • For new-to-world offerings, avoid using gender-skewing brand names, product names, or titles
  • Don’t ignore the sizable minority — make an effort to understand the full range of your fan base, what draws them to your offering, and what they need, regardless of gender

We’d love to share more about how our unique kids & family expertise and solutions can help your business move forward. Learn more about InsightKids here!

This article was recently featured in Kidscreen.