Academic journal article Journal of Secondary Gifted Education

Gender-Role Stereotyping and Career Aspirations: A Comparison of Gifted Early Adolescent Boys and Girls

Academic journal article Journal of Secondary Gifted Education

Gender-Role Stereotyping and Career Aspirations: A Comparison of Gifted Early Adolescent Boys and Girls

Article excerpt


This study examined the career aspirations of gifted early adolescent boys and girls utilizing a career aspirations measure that differentiated between the careers that were still being considered by each student versus those that had been ruled out. Careers were classifled by sex type (male dominated, female dominated, or balanced), education required (high school degree, college degree, graduate degree), and prestige associated with the career. Assessments of gender-related personality attributes, achievement motivation, and attitudes toward the rights and roles of women also were administered to provide information on the correlates of career aspirations among gifted early adolescent students (examined separately by gender). Results showed that girls were interested in a significantly greater number of careers (i.e., had ruled out fewer occupations than boys). Girls also showed greater gender-role flexibility in their career aspirations than their male counterparts. Boys aspired to careers that were signif icantly higher in education required and prestige level than girls. The strength and direction of the relationships between career aspirations and gender-related personality attributes and achievement motivation varied by gender. Results are discussed in terms of their implications for understanding the diffiring career development needs of gifted early adolescent boys and girls.


Given the underrepresentation of women in high-status, high-pay occupations (e.g., medicine, engineering, the natural sciences, law), there has been considerable interest in understanding how gifted young women come to choose their vocations. Certainly, in the past, there was much less choice for women in the vocational domain. Factors such as overt sexism and discrimination limited the educational opportunities that were available to women, womens access to male-dominated careers, and the freedom to choose a combination of a career and family (Kerr, 1995). In Terman's landmark study of gifted individuals, 50% of the women whom researchers followed at age 44 had not pursued a fulltime career (Terman & Oden, 1959).

As we enter the 21st century, many of the barriers to vocational choice among women have been reduced. In particular, there is greater acceptance of women pursuing male-dominated careers and greater choice in childcare options. Concomitantly, there has been a consistent increase in female participation in traditionally male-dominated fields over the past few decades (U.S. Department of Labor, 1998). And yet, evidence shows that young men entering careers in math and the sciences continue to greatly outnumber young women. In 1996, for example, women earned 26.7% of master's degrees in computer science, 17.2% of master's degrees in engineering, and 32.2% of master's degrees in the physical sciences and science technologies (U.S. Department of Education, 2000). Similar underrepresentarion has been documented at the bachelor's level, where women earned 27.5% of degrees in computer science, 16.1% of degrees in engineering, and 36% of degrees in the physical sciences and science technologies. Notably, virtually all high-pay, high-prestige careers continued to be male dominated.

Many have hypothesized that the underrepresentation of women in high-pay, high-status professions is related to the continued gender-role stereotyping of careers. Children learn from a young age that, for example, secretaries are female, while business executives are male (Berk, 2000). Examples of men in positions of power and women in supportive roles abound in children's books, movies, television programming, and children's actual life experiences. Many researchers have noted that limited exposure to women in nontraditional careers may limit the occupational aspirations of gifted girls who have the potential to pursue education leading to a prestigious career, but may not perceive it as being within their realm of options (see, in particular, Kerr, 1995). …

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