Gender and Career Aspirations

Dr Carole Ford

Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor.
Rich man, poor man, beggarman, thief.
Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief.

It seems that the sexual division of labour has a lengthy and intriguing history! This well-known counting-out rhyme, which has its origins in the fifteenth century, was unashamedly masculine in its emphasis. Lesser known is the accompanying rhyme for females:

Lady, baby, gypsy, queen.
Elephant, monkey, tangerine.

Carole summarises the results of her research with children in a primary school setting who were asked to consider the gender-appropriateness of each career in a list of 20 career options. She concludes that addressing gender stereotypes in career aspirations is most effective when it commences at the early stages of formulating work/gender schemas, that is, in early childhood.

She also records how, if given the opportunity, more than 40% of girls would prefer to be born a member of the opposite sex; yet this was the response from only 5% of boys. Such a finding suggests that both genders have a functional understanding of adult-validated sex-stereotyped beliefs from an early age.