Over 100 kindergarteners in Hong Kong were first tested for a preference for the color yellow or for green. Finding no preference, researchers Sui Ping Yung and Wang Ivy Wong told children that yellow is a girl’s color and green is a boy’s color. Following this statement, girls showed a significant preference for things colored yellow and boys showed preference for things colored green.
Yellow and green are considered gender-neutral in China, just as they are in the U.S. Pink and blue are gendered colors in in both countries.
"Our findings support the notion that gender-typed liking for pink versus blue is a particularly salient gender difference," explains Yeung. "Moreover, our findings reveal that gender differences could be created merely by applying gender labels."
The researchers also tested whether using gender-coded colors in toys affects how well children play. The children were given yellow and green puzzles to play with. The results showed that children who had not been told to associate yellow or green with a gender performed equally well on the puzzles. However, if they had been exposed to gender labels for yellow and green, boys outperformed girls on puzzles of both colors.
The fact that a simple suggestion could affect children’s perception of colors and also on their puzzle-solving ability once gender had been introduced as a factor, is worth our concern. The researchers warn parents and teachers against attaching gender labels to colors and to other qualities that are, in fact, gender neutral.
Read more: Sui Ping Yeung & Wang Ivy Wong (2018). Gender labels on gender-neutral colors: Do they affect children’s color preferences and play performance? Sex Roles, 2018; doi:10.1007/s11199-017-0875-3