Education Spain , Madrid, Monday, November 10 of 2014, 19:10

Only 6% of people work in the occupations they aspired to in childhood

A study analyzes the processes that influence the formation of occupational aspirations in preadolescent boys and girls

UC3M/DICYT A Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) study analyzes the processes that influence the formation of occupational aspirations in preadolescent boys and girls, with special attention focused on factors that influence in the choice of typical occupations for each gender. According to the research, among other factors that influence in the choice are the studies of the child’s parents and the child’s own self esteem.


Children who aspire to professions considered sex-typical have twice the chance of ending up in one of them as an adult. However, only “Only 6% of people work in the profession they aspired to in childhood,” observed Javier Polavieja, Sociology professor at the UC3M Department of Social Sciences.


In order to reach these conclusions the study analyzed two decisive factors: on one hand, those that were related to characteristics of the family environment, the parents’ occupations and the distribution of gender roles within the home; and on the other hand, the child’s own psychological attributes, particularly his/her degree of motivation at school and his/her own self-esteem.


Parents’ behavior regarding household chores influences how children learn roles that are more sex-appropriate. In families with a traditional division of household tasks, boys aspire to professions that are habitually masculine. However, this conclusion is not applicable to females, since girls from families who are also traditional in respect to gender roles are not more inclined to want a job that is typical of their sex, according to the researchers’ observations.


Additional evidence found is that the parents’ socio-economic resources affect the professional ambition of their children. The scientists have observed that daughters who have parents with university studies tend to aspire to reach the height of occupational hierarchy: CEO’s, managers…which are occupations “where there are fewer women, and as such, they are less typical of their sex,” explained professor Javier Polavieja, who has published the study in the journal Social Forces together with Lucinda Platt, professor of Social Policy and Sociology at the London School of Economics.


As for sons of university educated parents, researchers concluded that they have occupations less typical than those held by other members of their sex, and that, according to Polavieja, explains why “ parents’ education carries with it more egalitarian values that the children learn at home”.


Regarding observable psychological attributes, the research focused particularly on motivation and self esteem. Concretely, self-esteem is a factor that “ is clearly important, above all in the case of boys,” the sociologist noted. According to the study, boys who have a higher level of self-esteem aspire to occupations less typical of their sex and “have a greater capacity to go against gender norms”, the professor concluded.


In order to carry out this study, the researchers analyzed the occupational aspirations of children of both sexes between the ages of 11 and 15. The data used, from the British Household Panel Survey, corresponds to a sample of 1,693 boys and 1,667 girls, who were surveyed on repeated occasions from childhood until holding their first significant jobs as adults.


Further information 


‘Nurse or Mechanic? The Role of Parental Socialization and Children’s Personality in the Formation of Sex-Typed Occupational Aspirations, by Javier G Polavieja and Lucinda Platt, Social Forces.