There has been a dramatic increase in the amount of literature on how career decisions are made and implemented over the past few years. Many researchers have acknowledged that this process differs for women and men and have articulated theories and models to try and explain how the career development of women is distinctive and why it is more complex than that of men (Betz & Fitzgerald, 1987; O'Brien & Fassinger, 1993).
Research has indicated that the main variables affecting women's choices of a nontraditional career generally defined in terms of career prestige or science-relatedness, include academic ability, particularly coursework in math and science (Wise, 1985), high-esteem, and sex-role orientation, particularly degree of instrumentality as found in the androgynous or masculine sex-role orientation (Jones & Lamke, 1985; Metzler-Brennan, Lewis, & Gerrard, 1985; Young, 1986). Fassinger (1990) tested a path model of career choice originally proposed by Betz and Fitzgerald (1987) using two large samples of college undergraduate women from two universities. The model hypothesized that the variables of ability, agentic characteristics such as instrumentality and career decision-making, feminist orientation, and family orientation would predict career orientation, mathematics orientation, and career choice. Career orientation was defined by the attitudes toward work roles and career paths. Career choice was defined by the degree of traditionality, prestige, and science-relatedness of the chosen career. Fassinger's hypothesis was supported in that high ability, liberal sex-role attitudes in relation to both work and family roles, and high instrumentality did predict career orientation and nontraditional career choices.
An investigation of the relationship between career choice and sex role using 186 college juniors and seniors by Strange and Rea (1983) found a significant difference between the sex-role classification of women in female-dominated majors such as elementary education and women in male-dominated majors such as design technology. A large percentage of feminine-typed women (48.1%) were found in the female dominated majors, while the largest proportion of females enrolled in traditionally male majors were found to be masculine/instrumental-typed (34.0%).
Most research concerning the career development of women has focused on college women and their experiences. However, career planning and occupational identity are major developmental tasks of adolescence, yet little research has been directed toward this age group. Schulenberg, Goldstein, and Vondracek (1991) investigated influences on adolescent career interests to determine whether gender differences would be moderated by educational aspirations, career certainty, grade level, and level of parents' education and whether these moderators would contribute to the within-gender variation in career interest. Career interests refer to the preferences for specific types of work experiences or work environments and is a key variable in career decision-making. In their study using a rural sample of 699 male and female junior and senior high school students, they found significant gender differences on most of the career interest scales which measured preferences for 14 types of career interests. The gender differences were more pronounced in high school than in junior high school and were found to be consistent with traditional sex-role stereotypes. The girls scored higher in areas related to the arts, and the boys scored higher in areas related to the sciences and technology. However, Schulenberg et al., stressed the need to look beyond significant main effects indicating gender differences and look further at the significant within-gender variation.
Sandberg, Ehrhardt, Ince, and Meyer-Bahlburg (1991), in a longitudinal study involving 34 girls and 40 boys, found significant gender differences in childhood career interests with the differences becoming even more apparent in early adolescence. …