Sex Differences in Work Aspirations

Another important paper from Stoet and Geary

We investigated sex differences in 473,260 adolescents’ aspirations to work in things-oriented (e.g., mechanic), people-oriented (e.g., nurse), and STEM (e.g., mathematician) careers across 80 countries and economic regions using the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). We analyzed student career aspirations in combination with student achievement in mathematics, reading, and science, as well as parental occupations and family wealth. In each country and region, more boys than girls aspired to a things-oriented or STEM occupation and more girls than boys to a people-oriented occupation. These sex differences were larger in countries with a higher level of women’s empowerment. We explain this counter-intuitive finding through the indirect effect of wealth. Women’s empowerment is associated with relatively high levels of national wealth and this wealth allows more students to aspire to occupations they are intrinsically interested in. Implications for better understanding the sources of sex differences in career aspirations and associated policy are discussed.

…it has been four generations since Miner’s [10] assessment of adolescents’ occupational interests and core sex differences have not changed much, despite dramatic social and economic changes since that time. Boys continue to express a greater interest in blue-collar and white-collar things-oriented occupations than do girls, and girls continue to show a greater interest in people-oriented

…Policy makers have regularly expressed a desire to reduce the number of students choosing stereotypical careers (e.g., [49]) or to increase the number of girls aspiring to and women entering technical occupations, especially STEM occupations [22]. The results of this study and related ones reveal a policy-relevant conundrum [3,4,6,50]. Generally speaking, more developed and gender equal nations are better than less developed nations in attracting boys to more established things-oriented (often blue-collar) occupations, but they fail to attract girls to these areas. This problem is also occurring for the subset of things-oriented STEM occupations. In fact, the problem for STEM is even more profound, given that interest in STEM declines for both boys and
girls in more developed, innovative, and gender equal nations.

See also my previous post Do Boys Have a Comparative Advantage in Math and Science?

Hat tip: Steve Stewart-Williams.


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