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Nurse or Mechanic? Explaining Sex-Typed Occupational Aspirations amongst Children


  • Javier Polavieja

    () (IMDEA-Social Sciences Institute.)

  • Lucinda Platt

    () (Institute of Education, University of London)


There is a high degree of sex-typing in young children's occupational aspirations and this has consequences for adult occupational segregation. Yet we still know surprisingly little about the mechanisms involved in the formation of sex-typical preferences and there is considerable theoretical controversy regarding the relative role of parental socialization and individual agency in this process. This study analyzes the determinants of sex-typed occupational aspirations amongst British children aged between 11 and 15. We develop a model of parental socialization and test for different channels and mechanisms involved in the transmission of sex-typical preferences. We also propose an innovative definition of personal agency that is anchored in observable psychological traits linked to self-direction. We find that parental influences on occupational preferences operate mainly through three distinctive channels: 1) the effect that parental socio-economic resources have on the scope of children's occupational aspirations, 2) children's imitation of parental occupations, and 3) children's learning of sex-typed roles via the observation of parental behavior. We also find a strong net effect of children's own psychological predispositions —self-esteem in particular— on the incidence of sex-typical occupational preferences. Yet large sex-differences in occupational aspirations remain unexplained.

Suggested Citation

  • Javier Polavieja & Lucinda Platt, 2011. "Nurse or Mechanic? Explaining Sex-Typed Occupational Aspirations amongst Children," DoQSS Working Papers 11-08, Department of Quantitative Social Science - UCL Institute of Education, University College London.
  • Handle: RePEc:qss:dqsswp:1108

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. James P. Smith, 2009. "The Impact of Childhood Health on Adult Labor Market Outcomes," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(3), pages 478-489, August.
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    4. Flavio Cunha & James J. Heckman & Susanne M. Schennach, 2010. "Estimating the Technology of Cognitive and Noncognitive Skill Formation," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 78(3), pages 883-931, May.
    5. Alan S. Blinder, 1973. "Wage Discrimination: Reduced Form and Structural Estimates," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 8(4), pages 436-455.
    6. Pedro Carneiro & Claire Crawford & Alissa Goodman, 2007. "The Impact of Early Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Skills on Later Outcomes," CEE Discussion Papers 0092, Centre for the Economics of Education, LSE.
    7. Case, Anne & Fertig, Angela & Paxson, Christina, 2005. "The lasting impact of childhood health and circumstance," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 365-389, March.
    8. Ben Jann, 2008. "The Blinder–Oaxaca decomposition for linear regression models," Stata Journal, StataCorp LP, vol. 8(4), pages 453-479, December.
    9. Brunello, Giorgio & Schlotter, Martin, 2011. "Non Cognitive Skills and Personality Traits: Labour Market Relevance and their Development in Education & Training Systems," IZA Discussion Papers 5743, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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    More about this item


    Gender Segregation; Occupational Aspirations; Children; Socialization; Personality Traits;

    JEL classification:

    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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