Gender Differences in Occupational Choice
Traditionally, men have been groomed from childbirth for future employment. Boys learn at an early age that men are known by the work they do, and they are strongly encouraged to think about what occupation they would like to have. Occupational achievement is stressed as a core element of masculinity. Important social skills are taught through team games, in which they learn how to play by the rules, to accept setbacks without taking defeat personally, to follow the guidance of a leader, and to move up the leadership hierarchy by demonstrating qualities that are valued by others.
Traditionally, women have not been trained in this manner. The skills that they have learned have been quite different: how to be accommodating, deferential, quiet, and supportive (Shainess, 1984). However, an increasing emphasis has been placed on the importance of providing girls with the necessary skills for occupations outside the home. The growth of women’s athletic programs is giving more women the opportunity to learn key skills as well.
Given that over 71% of women are employed outside the home (U. S. Department of Labor, 2006), and that this number will probably continue to increase, it is especially important that women be exposed to the same occupational socialization opportunities as men. However, major structural barriers to women’s occupational selection exist (Schwartz, 1992; Shaiko, 1996; Yamagata et al.,
1997) . Many occupational opportunities are still more available to men than to women (Lyness & Thompson, 1997; Welle & Heilman, 2007).
Traditional and Nontraditional Occupations. In the
past, women who were employed tended to enter traditionally, female-dominated occupations such as secretarial, teaching, and social work jobs. This was due mainly to their socialization into these occupational tracks. However, as more women enter the workforce and as new opportunities are opened for women, a growing number of them work in traditionally male-dominated occupations, such as construction and engineering. Research in this
area has focused on three issues (Swanson, 1992): selection of nontraditional occupations, characteristics of women in nontraditional occupations, and perceptions of nontraditional occupations.
Why some women end up in nontraditional occupations appears to be related to personal feelings and experiences as well as expectations about the occupation; in other words, women in these occupations are work-centered (Blackburn et al., 2002; Brooks & Betz, 1990; Hakim, 2002). Concerning personal experiences, women who attend singlesex high schools and who have both brothers and sisters end up in the least traditional occupations, apparently because they have been exposed to more options and fewer gender-role stereotypes (Rubenfeld & Gilroy, 1991). Personal feelings are important; a study of Japanese students found that women had significantly lower confidence in their ability to perform in male-dominated occupations than in their ability in female-dominated occupations (Matsui, Ikeda, & Ohnishi, 1989).
The characteristics of women in nontraditional occupations have been studied as well. Betz, Heesacker, and Shuttleworth (1990) found that women who scored high on femininity, as defined by endorsing traditional feminine gender roles, and those in female-dominated occupations had the poorest match between their abilities and their occupational choices. These findings mean that women who score high on traditional measures of femininity have difficulty finding occupations that allow them to take advantage of their abilities. In addition, women in female-dominated occupations generally find that their jobs do not allow them to use their abilities to the fullest. In sum, many women have difficulty finding occupations that match their skills.
Despite the efforts to counteract gender stereotyping of occupations, less than 25% of women obtain nontraditional occupations (U. S. Department of Labor, 2008) and they are still viewed with disapproval by their peers of either sex, even though they have high job satisfaction themselves (Brabeck & Weisgerber, 1989; Pfost & Fiore, 1990). This finding holds up in crosscultural research as well. In a study conducted in
India, both women and men gave higher “respectability” ratings to males than to females in the same occupation (Kanekar, Koswalla, & Nazareth, 1989). People even make inferences about working conditions based on their perception of an occupation as traditionally masculine or feminine. Scozzaro and Subich (1990) report that occupations such as a secretarial job are not perceived as offering good pay and promotion potential. Worst of all, people are less likely to perceive incidents of sexual coercion as harassing when a woman is in a nontraditional occupation (Burgess & Borgida, 1997).
Taken together, these studies show we still have a long way to go before people can choose any occupation they want without having to contend with gender-related stereotypes. Although differences in opportunities for women in traditional and nontraditional occupations are narrowing, key differences remain. Finally, relatively little research has examined differences between males in traditional and nontraditional occupations (Swanson, 1992). It is important to understand why men choose traditional or nontraditional occupations, and why some men still perpetuate gender stereotypes about particular occupations. Current research is only beginning to address this issue. In a recent study, Lease (2003) found that men’s nontraditional occupational choices were related to liberal social attitudes and that higher educational aspirations were related to traditional career choice.