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Childhood aspirations affect later career choices

Boys who dream of becoming firemen and girls who aspire to become hairdressers are more likely to end up in stereotypically male or female occupations as adults according to new research from LSE.

The research|, published in the journal Social Forces, found that children who wanted to do a job traditionally associated with their gender were twice as likely to end up in these types of occupations as adults than children who wanted to go into occupations that are not generally seen as men’s or women’s work. However, only six per cent of adults went into the specific occupation they aspired to as children.

A knock-on effect of this was that women who aspired to female dominated occupations as children were likely to have lower wages in their first jobs. This is because these occupations tend to pay lower average wages.

Lucinda Platt, one of the researchers and Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at LSE, said: “Stereotypically ‘male’ or ‘female’ preferences that children exhibit during childhood continue into, and affect, their adult lives. However we know surprisingly little about how these inclinations are formed. Our findings strongly suggest that both social influences and individual psychological predispositions play a role.”

To trace how children’s occupational preferences for ‘male’ or ‘female’ occupations are formed, the researchers looked at what kind of backgrounds children came from, their personalities and the influence of their parents on them.

firemanThey found that girls learn to be non-stereotypically female from their mothers but boys learn to be stereotypically male from their fathers. Girls with mothers in non-stereotypically 'female occupations' were more likely to aspire to similarly non-traditionally female jobs. Boys with fathers in traditionally male occupations were more likely to aspire to traditionally male jobs.

However, very few children wanted to directly imitate their parents with only a small percentage of boys only – three percent – aspiring to their father's actual occupation.

Boys living in families with a traditional division of housework tended to aspire to more traditionally male occupations. However, girls living in these types of households did not necessarily aspire to 'women's' occupations.

Boys whose parents went to university were less likely to aspire to 'men's work' than boys from a lower educational background. The researchers speculate that a university education leads these boys' parents to champion the idea of equality and that they transmit this to their sons.

Girls were found to be less likely to aspire to ‘female’ occupations if their parents were highly educated, if they had high level of self-esteem or were highly motivated at school. These attributes help girls aim higher on the occupational ladder, where there are fewer jobs that are dominated by women.

According to the research, boys with high self-esteem were more likely to aspire to occupations that are not traditionally seen as ‘men’s’ work. The researchers believe this could be because these boys feel more confident in challenging society’s expectations of men.

Javier Polavieja, one of the researchers and Professor of Sociology from Carlos III University of Madrid, said: “We usually focus on women’s choices in the workforce rather than men’s. However, we won’t change the labour market if we only focus on girls and women. For example, giving boys the confidence to go into occupations that are not traditionally seen as ‘men’s work’ could help raise the value placed on those jobs. A secretary, for example, used to be seen as a job for men and was held in higher regard than is generally the case today."

The researchers looked at the occupational aspirations of 1693 boys and 1667 girls between the ages of 11-15 using information from the British Household Panel Survey. Information from the UK Labour Force Survey was used to categorise jobs according to whether they are dominated by men or women.

Posted: Wednesday 18 June 2014

For more information

Sue Windebank, LSE press office, T: + 44 (0) 207 849 4624, e: s.windebank@lse.ac.uk|

 

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