Characteristics of Female Students Who Aspire to Science and Engineering or Homemaking Occupations

Article excerpt

This study identified predictors that discriminated between nontraditional and traditional career aspirations in a sample composed of 930 eighth-grade female students (52 Asian Americans, 123 Hispanics, 61 African Americans, 669 Whites, and 15 Native Americans). Results indicated that the students who aspired to careers in science or engineering scored significantly higher on educational aspirations; perceived parental expectations; student-reported grade point averages (GPAs); and mathematics, reading, and science test scores than did girls who aspired to homemaking occupations. They also scored higher on measures of self-esteem, internal locus of control, socioeconomic status, and had fewer siblings. Educational aspirations, parental expectations, self-reported GPA, and science proficiency were the best discriminators between the groups. Results also indicated that differences in the distributions of career aspirations across racial-ethnic groups were significant.

Nontraditional occupations have been defined as those having less than 30% to 34% women among their ranks (Hayes, 1985). Science, engineering, technical, and managerial occupations typically meet this definition. The underrepresentation of women in these male-dominated occupations has prompted numerous researchers to study the characteristics of women who work in nontraditional occupations. Baker (1987) and MacCorquodale (1984) reported that nontraditional career-oriented women described themselves as self-confident, very competitive, and either highly independent or highly dependent. Other nontraditional career-oriented women indicated that they received direct encouragement from teachers, counselors, and significant others (e.g., Dick & Rallis, 1991; Fitzpatrick & Silverman, 1989; Sloat, 1990); have working mothers as role models (Almquist, 1974); have parents with higher education and occupational levels (McKenna & Ferrero, 1991); and come from higher socioeconomic level homes (Berman, 1972; McKenna & Ferrero, 1991). Women aspiring to nontraditional careers are often firstborn or only children (McKenna & Ferrero, 1991; Rea-Poteat & Martin, 1991), hold fewer traditional attitudes toward women, and perceive less conflict between combining work and family (Murrell, Frieze, & Frost, 1991; Rubenfeld & Gilroy, 1991). The more stereotypical masculine characteristics (as defined by Bem, 1974) a woman perceives herself to have, the more likely she is to choose a nontraditional career (Baker, 1987).

The aforementioned findings provide rather simplistic descriptions and are not as conclusive as they might seem to be (Herr & Cramer, 1988). The studies provide information about variables associated with women's aspirations to nontraditional careers, but give no information about the significance of each variable in comparison with the others and do not indicate how these variables interrelate and contribute to the choices that women make when choosing nontraditional occupations.

This investigation differs in several ways from previous studies dealing with career aspirations. First, most previous studies focused on working women (e.g., Berman, 1972; Mazen & Lemkau, 1990; Stewart, 1989) whereas in this study, "occupation aspired to" rather than "occupation entered" is used as a criterion. Pryor (1981) and others (Haring & Beyard-Tyler, 1984; Pryor & Taylor, 1986) have argued that "expressed choice" has more "psychological utility" than the more commonly used criterion of occupational entry, Expressed choice or aspired occupation is a psychological criterion, which represents an individual's career choice before consideration of situational variables such as job availability or financial responsibility.

Second, eighth-grade girls' aspirations were studied. Most of the research investigating nontraditional careers focused on high school students or college-age students. Eighth-grade students typically are in the crucial stage of exploring self and the world of work (Super, 1969). …