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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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    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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