Advent calendar: 14. Lego and Duplo gender audit

I wrote the other day about the new Lego Friends series that will be released next year, and it seems plenty of other people were interested in the new sets and what it means about Lego’s expectations and assumptions regarding their customers’ genders. This article in Business Week is particularly interesting with regards to the company’s research into the separate play habits of boys and girls.

I was saddened to see the assertion from their VP that girls hate the minifigure. He is clearly in a better position than me to say whether this is statistically true, but I love it – and it seems that Polly does too:

One interesting thing in the article is the mention of avatar play – for which you need to be able to relate to the figures. Now, I’ve never had any problem projecting myself onto any identity, male or female (or, indeed, train, but that’s another story), but I definitely think it is healthy and sensible and fair and honest and desirable to have a representative split of character types – in terms of gender, race, occupation, whatever else you may care to think of. And thus, my gender audit of Polly’s Lego and Duplo commenced.

Duplo

Firstly, the Duplo. The recommended age range for Duplo sets tends to be around 2-5 – a very formative age, and probably before school and peer group socialisation forces norms on the poor blighters.

This shows 18 males and 14 female figures. If you exclude the babies (I resolutely declare that babies don’t have genders anyway, they’re just babies for goodness sake) and the duplicate sporty man on the right, you get 14 female and 15 male. For argument’s sake I think it’s fair to call this 50:50.

It is likely of course that our choices as parents have influenced this. For example, the Fire Station set contained two figures, both male fire fighters shown on the right. This is a typically boyish set (so says Neal) that we probably wouldn’t normally purchase. If we had more of these, and also the Police sets, the gender balance would definitely look different. This year’s Police sets alone would have added eight male figures and zero female (unless of course the criminal I can’t quite get a good look at is actually female, but that’s hardly going to skew the figures much).

Conclusion: it’s easy to get a nice fair gender split in Duplo sets. Note however that there is only one black character (one of the firemen).

Lego

Now lets look at the Lego. I think the youngest Lego sets are 5+ but many have much higher age ranges, like 12+ for the last two sets we bought.

There’s visibly a clear difference here compared to the Duplo. There are 70 male figures, and 25 female ones. This is a 26% female, 74% male split. Lets say 25:75 for simplicity’s sake – the Lego population is 25% female.

Factors that have skewed this proportion work in both direction and, I think, cancel each other out. Firstly, while we do tend to only purchase the more grown up (ha!) collectors sets rather than, again, Police or Fire type sets, the free packages with newspapers recently have been overwhelmingly male. There is a large collection of policemen, at least one fireman, two Harry Potters, two Captain Jack Sparrows, two explorer-type dudes, and none of their female counterparts (on the assumption that there even are any). However we have specifically bought two of the female magnet sets (which gave us 6 female figures and zero male ones), which goes some way to cancel this out.

It’s perfectly possible that I have misgendered a few of these figures, some of the police or dock workers may well be female, for example. I have taken the flawed assumptions that only males have facial hair, and that female indicators are one of either hips/narrow waist or eyelashes.

Summary

The Duplo population is similar to ours, in that there are roughly 50% male characters and 50% female. Something quite different occurs in the Lego universe however, as only 25% of their population is female. Is this because Lego have found that a greater proportion of their Lego customers are male? Or does this contribute to the fact?

I should also note that I excluded the sporty Duplo man because he was a false duplicate – we shouldn’t have two of these, whereas the other duplicates are there because we deliberately bought two sets or Lego include them in more than one set.

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10 Responses to Advent calendar: 14. Lego and Duplo gender audit

  1. peter says:

    I recall as A kid wanting female lego minifigures and not having many at all. I ended up making a blond bob by breaking a yellow space helmet.

    However, I’m not sure about the shapely new minifigure. And I think it goes against what Lego stands for – I recall an advert from the 1980s you tweeted of a girl playing with Lego. And the ambiguity of the Lego minifigure is it’s strength – with your imagination you can project whatever you want onto it…

    That’s my rambling thoughts for now…

    • impeus says:

      You’re right, avatar play aside, there’s a lot to be said for the power of imagination, projecting anything you can think of onto the pieces you have. It’s not just about having a piece that represents you (on that note I should have mentioned the Duplo World People set, since I commented on the single solitary black character we have) – it’s about imagining a world and what happens in it. It’s a sad thought that a child of any gender would have to imagine a world that’s only 25% female at best. It’s just not real.

      One thing I love about that old advert you mention (can be seen here by the way) is the chaotic colours of her creation. It doesn’t matter that the walls are different colours. You can still create whatever your imagination desires.

      I think this is a negative trend in Lego to be honest – the change of the minifigure from the ambiguous original generic face to the vast array of differently detailed characters now, and the change in focus from universal brick sets to very specific, detailed sets which are built as prescribed models, no imagination required.

      I can sense another blog coming up, on the changing face of the Lego minifigure.

  2. Pingback: Advent calendar: 16. The changing face of the Lego minifigure | impeus.com

  3. Peter Matthews says:

    And another very good blog post it is too :o)

    Thanks for finding the advert – on the office wall now.

  4. James Wallis says:

    Based on anecdotal memory (you expect me to do research? this is the internet!), every series of the Collectors Minifigures has had a male:female ratio of about 3:1. I suspect the target audience is older, but still it’s disappointing.

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