Coloring Within the Lines: Gender Stereotypes
in Contemporary Coloring Books
Maureen J. Fitzpatrick
Barbara J. McPherson
Published online: 11 October 2009
Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2009
Abstract Extensive research on print media for children
such as storybooks reveals that gender stereotypes are
prevalent; however, no systematic analysis of coloring
books has been conducted since 1974. We analyzed 889
characters in 56 contemporary coloring books published in
the United States and selected through stratified random
sampling from one region of California, coding for
prevalence of each gender, stereotypic gender roles, activity
level, type, and age of character. As hypothesized, males
were more active; gender stereotypes were common.
Gender neutral behaviors were more likely to be done by
males. Females were more likely to be depicted as children
and humans; whereas males were mostly depicted as
animals, adults, and superheroes. Results are discussed in
terms of gender schema theory.
Keywords Gender stereotypes
Numerous studies investigating gender stereotyping have
been performed and have revealed that mass media in the
United States aimed at children frequently depict fairly rigid
and traditional gender roles (Huesmann and Taylor 2006).
Children’s television programs and advertising (e.g., Browne
1998; Nolan et al. 1977; Ruble et al. 1981; Wright et al.
1995), cartoons (e.g., Baker and Raney 2007; Davidson et al.
1979; Thompson and Zerbinos 1997), toys (e.g., Blakemore
and Centers 2005; Rheingold and Cook 1975), textbooks
(e.g., Purcell and Stewart 1990; Women on Words and
Images 1972), and children’s story and picture books (e.g.,
McDonald 1989;Oskampetal.1996; Turner-Bowker 1996;
Weitzman et al. 1972) all have been extensively investigated,
both in the past and more recently. However, coloring books
have not undergone any recent analyses. The last systematic
content analysis of coloring books was conducted over
thirty-five years ago by Rachlin and Vogt (1974), using a
convenience sample, who found gender stereotypes in that
medium as well. Thus, the purpose of this study was to
determine if the images in contemporary coloring books
available in one area of the United States would display
more egalitarian roles for males and females than what has
been found in other print media directed at children and in
the previous systematic content analysis of coloring books.
Why Analyze Coloring Books?
Coloring has been part of the American scene for over
100 years, beginning with the use of paints and continuing
with crayons. Kate Greenaway is credited with developing
one of the first coloring books intended for children to paint
in 1884, A Painting Book (Spielmann and Layard 1967),
later published as The Little Folks’ Paint Book (Weatherly
and Greenaway 1879).
Today it would be rare for a young child not to be
exposed to a coloring book. Twelve percent of children’s
books sold nationwide are coloring and activity books,
accounting for over 104 million units sold representing
more than $230 million in annual revenue (Raugust 2003).
In 1996, Crayola reported manufacturing their 100 billionth
2009). Therefore, it appears parents and
others in charge of children are purchasing coloring books
M. J. Fitzpatrick (*)
B. J. McPherson
Department of Psychology,
California State University San Marcos,
San Marcos, CA 92096, USA
Sex Roles (2010) 62:127–137