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Boys vs. Girls

Boys versus girls. It's an age-old topic of conversation carried from generation to generation. Given its timelessness we were curious to see how today's generation of kids and teens feel about 'being a boy' and 'being a girl.' Additionally, this month, we'll explore how both sexes respond to gender stereotypes. From this study, we know that gender stereotypes are alive and well. But are kids and teens applying these stereotypes to themselves? The answer may surprise you.
September 4, 2009

Boys versus girls. It’s an age-old topic of conversation carried from generation to generation. Given its timelessness we were curious to see how today’s generation of kids and teens feel about ‘being a boy’ and ‘being a girl.’ Additionally, this month, we’ll explore how both sexes respond to gender stereotypes. From this study, we know that gender stereotypes are alive and well. But are kids and teens applying these stereotypes to themselves? The answer may surprise you.

According to girls ages eight to 17, the best part of being a girl often includes external cues that signify femininity, such as wearing dresses or skirts or makeup. Tween and teen girls feel they can get away with more things than boys can and not incur judgment. ‘We can get our hair done one day or go and work out in the gym the next without being judged,’ said one of our 15-year-old female respondents. ‘If a boy were to do something considered girly, it’s a big deal. But if girls do something considered boyish, people don’t think it’s a big issue.’

When it comes to the best thing about being a boy, on the other hand, it’s all about physicality. Boys of all ages love the fact they ‘can play more sports than girls,’ ‘get dirty’ and play rough with dads, brothers and friends. Several boys expressed relief that they don’t have to dress up or wear makeup like girls do – it feels high maintenance to them.

As for the hardest things about being a girl, it was clear they feel a lot of pressure from their parents and peers and, in some cases, the media. Examples of these pressures range from figuring out where they fit in, to managing their busy schedules, to meeting expectations put on them to ‘always be perfect’ at things they do. Furthermore, when it comes to anxiety, we see it begin to have an affect on girls as young as eight years old. One 11-year-old girl asserted, ‘You have to have the perfect hair and perfect shoes and be a certain way for people to like you.’

Boys are more apt to say they ‘don’t know’ what’s hard about being a boy. This sentiment was more common among younger boys (ages eight to 10). Older boys talked about expectations being put upon them to be ‘tough or strong’ and having to hinder emotions. Starting at age 12, boys point out the anxiety generated by having to talk to and socialize with girls.

A full 68% of all boys and girls agree that it’s easier to be a boy in today’s world. In fact, the only demographic in this study that doesn’t agree with the statement is younger girls, age eight to 10. At this age, girls willingly embrace what it is to be a girl and all that comes with it, including ‘all the girlie stuff like make-up, manicures, pedicures, hair and clothes.’ Girls are tapping into a certain innocence of childhood and holding onto it before adolescence sets in.

In fact, the research shows that gender stereotypes are timeless and kids and teens play into them. Both genders described boys via physical attributes (e.g. strong, athletic, competitive, active), while more emotional and creative adjectives (e.g. stylish, emotional, dramatic, sensitive) were used to describe girls.

When asked which words boys and girls would use to describe themselves, we saw a wide range. The words most favored by boys were friendly (77%), fun (75%), smart (72%), funny (73%), kind (64%) and cool (63%). Similarly, girls described themselves as friendly (89%), fun (85%), smart (78%), funny (74%), kind (75%), creative (70%), thoughtful (68%) and respectful (64%).

While it’s clear that playing sports transcends gender stereotypes, athleticism is still a boy-driven attribute, ranking number-one (72%) on the boy stereotype list. However, only 52% of boys said they are athletic – a discrepancy worth noting.

So what’s the bottom line? Though gender stereotypes are upheld by kids and teens in this study, when it comes to how they actually define themselves, they’re breaking them.

Now that we have a better understanding of kids’ feelings about gender, next month’s Kaleidoscope will focus on parents’ feelings and preconceived notions about raising boys and girls. For more information, contact Kaleidoscope@nick.com

(Source: Nickelodeon Kids and Family Research, July 09; Touchstone Research, June 09. Quant Sample size: N = 1000 kids and parents)

In an effort to keep you in touch with our audience and give a voice to our consumers, the Brand and Consumer Insights Department at Nickelodeon Kids & Family has created Nickelodeon Kaleidoscope. Every month, Kaleidoscope will capture key areas of interest across the kid and family cultural landscape, provide an understanding of attitudes and behaviors, and report on trends and buzz.

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