Monday, June 25th, 2007
Multiracial Pricing Disparity in Doll House Families: Marketing versus Reality
We recently experienced racial pricing disparity at our local toy store. We were there to buy a doll house, which comes with a set of basic furniture. The only thing missing was people.
We wanted to buy doll house dolls that resemble our family. As it happens, I’m white and my wife is black. Or if you ask my daughter, I’m pink and my wife is brown.
But wait, the dolls are sold in family sets: Hispanic-American, African-American, Asian-American and Caucasian. (I guess Ryan’s Room assumes all Caucasians are Americans. Ask me for my hyphen and I’ll tell you I’m European-American.)
A family doll set consists of a mother, father, boy, girl, grandmother and grandfather. Six dolls for $20.
Plan Toys also sells dolls in single race family sets, although its black family is mysteriously labeled “ethnic family.”
So, to assemble a doll set with a white dad and a black mom we would have to buy two entire family sets, spending twice as much money for a lot of extra dolls we didn’t need.
But wait, the store also sells individual dolls separated from their packaging. The marketer’s description posted on Amazon describes them as “extra dolls for a room full of fun” rather than “the other dolls you might need to make a realistic family set.”
What’s realistic? According to a statistic cited in a 2003 Christian Science Monitor article, 1 in 15 marriages in America is interracial, up from 1 in 23 in 1990. Just 40 years ago this month interracial marriage became legal. According to the National Journal, 7 percent of Americans have a multiracial background and in another 40 years the figure will be 21 percent.
Now, if we bought dolls by the store’s $5 each mix-and-match method, a mom, dad and daughter doll would run us $15 while other consumers could buy a full 6-doll single-race family for $20. In other words, a complete multiracial family costs $10 more than a single-race family.
The individual dolls didn’t even come in separate packaging — they were loose in a Ryan’s Room-branded mix-and-match box — so packaging doesn’t explain the price disparity.
I hate being short-shrifted. I insisted on going home and searching for an online retailer who specializes in mix-and-match dolls for multiracial families at rates comparable to the single-race family price. I came up empty. Individual dolls were still in the $5 to $6 range.
Hmm. Do we buy a white family? Do we buy a black family? Rather than have one parent’s doll skin color not match, we decided to make none of the dolls match so our daughter would not even think about it. We bought the Asian family.