Did Boys Use To Wear Pink?

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskeptic
By Neuroskeptic
Dec 1, 2012 6:54 AMNov 5, 2019 12:16 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

There's a belief that the colours we associate with the genders - pink for girls and blue for boys - used to be the other way around.

About 100 years ago, we're told, boys wore pink clothes, but then during the early 20th century, it flipped over. This is often used as an example of how arbitrary gender stereotypes are.

However according to psychologist Marco Del Giudice, the whole "pink-blue reversal" is an 'urban legend'. He argues that there's really only anecdotal evidence for the existence of the previous blue-girls pink-boys association.

The exceptions are four magazine articles - quoted in the paper that started the whole debate - which seem to provide documentary evidence. These associate girls with blue, but Giudice says that two of these might have been accidental typos, that swapped 'pink' with 'blue', while the other two may have represented a sneaky campaign by early feminists to subvert the blue-pink patriarchy.

Hmm. I don't really buy that. However Giudice has a stronger argument, which is that according to Google NGram, a searchable database of over 5 million books, there are lots of instances of the terms "blue for boys" and "pink for girls" going back to 1890, but none for the reverse at any time point:

Fair enough. However it's a big step from that to the idea that

the pink-blue convention may ultimately depend on innate perceptual biases toward different regions of the color spectrum in the two sexes (Hurlbert & Ling, 2007)

Del Giudice, M. (2012). The Twentieth Century Reversal of Pink-Blue Gender Coding: A Scientific Urban Legend? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41 (6), 1321-1323 DOI: 10.1007/s10508-012-0002-z

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.