The following picture of two dolls for sale, identical except for skin and hair color, was featured on the FailBlog.  Notice that the white doll is priced at $26.64 and the black doll is priced at $24.88:


Z at It’s The The Thought That Counts says that the prices reminded her of a short video about children and their doll preferences.  In the video, many black children understand that the black dolls were meant to represent them, but prefer white dolls and, in fact, think they are nicer and prettier than black dolls.

In light of this, Z wonders if the different prices can be explained by supply and demand.  The black doll would be “worth less” if “….white dolls tend to sell faster to people of all skin colors.”  Z continues:

So what should we make of this? Is it the store’s fault that there is higher demand for one product than another? It makes a twisted kind of sense to shift prices like this, if your goal is to move more of the black dolls in your inventory. Higher demand of any product leads to higher prices for it, and lower demand encourages sellers to lower their prices. I still think the message that it sends, that depicting a black person is worth less than depicting a white person, is far too repugnant to justify the pricing.  What do you think?

I’ve never seen any evidence, short of that anecdotal clip, that “white dolls sell faster to people of all skin colors.”  I don’t know if it’s true.

Further, companies determine the supply (that is, if companies make “too many” white or black dolls than the market will bear, the price of their product will fall) and they don’t have to make an equal number of black and white dolls.  So there’s more than a simple “invisible hand” here at work (“oops, the forces of capitalism demand that black dolls are worth less, what can a good capitalist do!?”)

That said, I still think Z’s comments are thought-provoking and ask a fundamental question about ethical capitalism.

UPDATE: In the comments, Thaddeus points out that the prices aren’t actually ON the dolls and I can’t read what the price stickers say, so it’s possible that those aren’t the actual prices for the dolls, but simply an artifact of their location on the shelf.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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