Traditional toys are tops for Brits

  • Dolls and construction kits most enduringly popular toys of past 50 years
  • Nearly half of adults feel number of electrical toys will continue to increase
  • Board games see greatest drop in popularity since 1950s
  • Battery operated toys make up at least half of toy collection for one in three children today

Dolls and construction kits have been voted the all-time favourite toys of the last half century in a study of playtime trends over the past fifty years.  Popular iconic toys that contributed to this include Lego, Meccanno, Barbie, and Cabbage Patch Dolls, according to new research by energy company E.ON1.

In a study of how toy trends developed from the 1950s to the late 1990s, dolls and construction toys repeatedly came out as the playthings of choice2. These categories endured as others, such as board games and collectables, fell by the wayside in the face of increasingly technology-driven toys that dominate the market today.

Toy trends of the past two decades were marked by the sharp increase in the popularity of battery operated and electronic toys, jumping from fifth most popular plaything in the 1980s to top choice today. The research did however reveal that traditional toys continue to have a strong hold. In the face of Xboxes, Wiis and hand-held consoles, one in six children (18%) still chose construction toys as their favourite toy, positioning the category as second most popular, whilst just over one in seven (16%) chose dolls as their top plaything putting them in third place.

Beverley Maguire, Energy Fitness Expert at E.ON, said: "It's great that traditional toys have remained so enduringly popular across the last half-century. We can however see the popularity of electronic toys is steadily rising; as radio-controlled cars and electronic games took a hold on the toy industry in the late 1970s and early 80s, just a tenth (9%) chose this category as their favourite. This doubles to one in five (20%) amongst children of the 21st century. 

"Our research shows that battery operated toys now make up at least half of toy collections for one in three children with almost half (40%) of parents relying on batteries to power toys, we'd encourage them to consider the benefits of rechargeable batteries to help keep their costs down and allow for more playtime before the power runs out. And of course, kids should remember to always power toys down when playtime is over."

The research echoed key moments in the toy industry over the last half century, including the increasing influence of popular TV shows on toys, the introduction of dolls for boys with the Action Man and the popularity of unforgettable collectables such as My Little Pony and Pogs.

Fostering creativity has endured throughout the decades as the marker of a top toy, with 46% of adults and 36% of children today citing it as the top reason for choosing a plaything.  

Whilst construction kits and dolls saw the greatest consistency in popularity over the past half century however, there were notable changes to the playtime line-up including:

  • Board games become ‘bored games', seeing the greatest drop in popularity from the toy of choice for over one in 10 (12%) of the 50s generation to just 3% for those born in the 90s;
  • The popularity of arts and crafts, including Play Doh and Etch-a-Sketch, reduced by half, from 11% to 6% over the same period;
  • Collectables saw a healthy increase from top choice for just 1% in the 1950s to peak at 10% in the 1980s, when Sylvanian Families had their heyday.

Looking to the future, almost three quarters (72%) of adults predict the role of technology in toys will increase and nearly half (44%) feel that toys will contain more electrical features. With battery operated toys making up at least half of toy collections for one in three children today - triple the proportion in the 80s3 - this would seem a likely prediction.

E.ON's Energy Fit Survey at eonenergyfit.com  helps people understand their energy use and see where potential savings can be made.

In January, E.ON launched its Reset Review which is designed to examine every aspect of E.ON's relationship with its customers - from tariffs and bills to how customers pay, how products are sold and how support is offered. For further information, details of the improvements made to date or to join customers already on the YourSay panel, please visit eonenergy.com/reset.



Additional research insights:

Key moments marked in the toy trends of the last 50 years include:

  • The 1950s was the year of the teddy bear for boys, perhaps influenced by Sooty, Sweep and Soo as sales of the Chad Valley puppet jumped. One in 20 boys in this decade chose teddy bears as their top toy, reducing to just 2% by the 1970s;
  • Despite being the decade of the Easy-Bake Oven, toys for playing house saw a sharp drop in popularity amongst girls in the 1960s, halving from 11% in the 1950s to just 6%. A product of the swinging sixties liberality perhaps;
  • The excitement of scalextrics in the 1960s which saw one in seven (14%) boys choose electrical toys as their favourite faded by almost half to just 8% in the 1970s;
  • The 1970s was the only decade where girls were keener than boys on outside toys. 16% of girls in this generation chose this feature as key compared to just over one in 10 (12%) of boys. A result perhaps of the introduction of popular Klik Klacks and Space Hoppers during the decade;
  • As the decade of Womblemania and Star Wars, the 1970s witnessed the powerful effects of TV and film on popular boys toys, with a fifty year high of one in 10 stating this as their top toy influencer;
  • With the appearance of My Little Pony and Sylvanian Families, the 1980s was a high-point for girls collectables with a tenth choosing the category as their favourite;
  • The 80s also enjoyed a high in popularity of dolls amongst boys as Action Man hit toy shelves across the UK;
  • The 1980s was a high amongst boys for traditional toys, namely the Rubiks cube which was a hit in the early part of the decade. One in 20 chose the category as their top, compared to just 1% by the 1990s;
  • The introduction of Nintendo Game Boy in the 1990s saw computer games / consoles jump in popularity amongst boys by 10%. As top toy for one in five (20%) in the 80s it rose to almost a third (33%) by the final decade of the 20th century.


Notes to editors:

1 Research carried out amongst 2,000 UK adults by OnePoll in May / June 2012.
2 How toy popularity changed over the decades:


Top toy category

Second place

Third place









Construction toys (39%)

Dolls (33%)

Electrical / battery operated (13%)

Board Games (13%)

Board Games (10%)

Teddy Bears (13%)


Construction toys (37%)

Dolls (36%)

Board Games (18%)

Crafts (16%)

Electrical / battery operated (14%)

Teddy bears (11%)


Construction toys (40%)

Dolls (34%)

Collectables (13%)

Teddy bears (14%)

Electrical / battery operated (8%)

Playing house (10%)


Construction toys (31%)

Dolls (39%)

Computer games / consoles (20%)

Teddy bears (16%)

Collectables (10%)

Collectables (10%)


Computer games / consoles (30%)

Dolls (30%)

Construction toys (28%)

Teddy bears (18%)

Collectables (13%)

Playing house (10%)


Computer games / consoles (20%)

Construction (18%)

Dolls (16%)


3 10% of adults born in the 1980s had half or more toys which featured a battery, compared to 34% of children today.


  • E.ON is one of the UK's leading power and gas companies - generating electricity, retailing power and gas, developing gas storage and undertaking gas and oil exploration and production. It is part of the E.ON group, one of the world's largest investor-owned power and gas companies. E.ON employs around 12,000 people in the UK and more than 79,000 worldwide;
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  • In an industry first, E.ON has launched its Reset Review - a process that will examine every aspect of E.ON's relationship with its customers. It will look at tariffs and bills, at how customers pay, at how products are sold, and how support is offered to customers. To do this E.ON will work with its independent Customer Council, directly with its customers and engage with consumer advocacy groups and other interested parties to undertake the Reset Review. As a result, E.ON will put customers back in control of their energy, which will be simply communicated and transparently fair;
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For more information contact:

Laura Gordon on 020 7009 3159 or laura.gordon@3-monkeys.co.uk or
Jag Kahlon on 02476 181 308 or jag.kahlon@eonenergy.com