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Yes I Can! Effects of Gender Fair Job Descriptions on Children's Perceptions of Job Status, Job Difficulty, and Vocational Self-Efficacy

Authors:
  • Karel de Grote University College, Antwerp, Belgium

Abstract and Figures

Many countries face the problem of skill shortage in traditionally male occupations. Individuals'development of vocational interests and employment goals starts as early as in middle childhood and is strongly influenced by perceptions of job accessibility (status and difficulty) and self-efficacy beliefs. In this study, we tested a linguistic intervention to strengthen children's self-efficacy toward stereotypically male occupations. Two classroom experiments with 591 primary school students from two different linguistic backgrounds (Dutch or German) showed that the presentation of occupational titles in pair forms (e.g., Ingenieurinnen und Ingenieure, female and male engineers), rather than in generic masculine forms (Ingenieure, plural for engineers), boosted children's self-efficacy with regard to traditionally male occupations, with the effect fully being mediated by perceptions that the jobs are not as difficult as gender stereotypes suggest. The discussion focuses on linguistic interventions as a means to increase children's self-efficacy toward traditionally male occupations.
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Volume 46 / Number 2 / 2015
ISSN-L 1864-9335, ISSN-Print 1864-9335, ISSN-Online 2151-2590
Contents
Original Articles
Research Report
How Dyads Reminiscence Moderates the Relations Between
Familiarity, Trust, and Memory Conformity
Candice E. Condon, Timothy D. Ritchie, and Eric R. Igou 65
Yes I Can! Effects of Gender Fair Job Descriptions on Children’s
Perceptions of Job Status, Job Difficulty, and Vocational Self-Efficacy
Dries Vervecken and Bettina Hannover 76
Heritage Identity and Maintenance Enhance Well-Being
of Turkish-Bulgarian and Turkish-German Adolescents
Radosveta Dimitrova, Arzu Aydinli, Athanasios Chasiotis,
Michael Bender, and Fons J. R. van de Vijver 93
The Role of Deliberative Versus Implemental Mindsets in Time
Prediction and Task Accomplishment
Veronika Brandsta¨tter, Lukas Giesinger, Veronika Job,
and Elisabeth Frank 104
When Bystanders Increase Rather Than Decrease Intentions to Help
Tobias Greitemeyer and Dirk Oliver Mu¨gge 116
Social Psychology 2015; Vol. 46(2) Ó2015 Hogrefe Publishing
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Original Article
Yes I Can!
Effects of Gender Fair Job Descriptions on Children’s
Perceptions of Job Status, Job Difficulty,
and Vocational Self-Efficacy
Dries Vervecken and Bettina Hannover
Department of Education Science and Psychology, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
Abstract. Many countries face the problem of skill shortage in traditionally male occupations. Individuals’ development of vocational interests
and employment goals starts as early as in middle childhood and is strongly influenced by perceptions of job accessibility (status and difficulty)
and self-efficacy beliefs. In this study, we tested a linguistic intervention to strengthen children’s self-efficacy toward stereotypically male
occupations. Two classroom experiments with 591 primary school students from two different linguistic backgrounds (Dutch or German)
showed that the presentation of occupational titles in pair forms (e.g., Ingenieurinnen und Ingenieure, female and male engineers), rather than in
generic masculine forms (Ingenieure, plural for engineers), boosted children’s self-efficacy with regard to traditionally male occupations, with
the effect fully being mediated by perceptions that the jobs are not as difficult as gender stereotypes suggest. The discussion focuses on
linguistic interventions as a means to increase children’s self-efficacy toward traditionally male occupations.
Keywords: gender stereotypes, gender fair language, accessibility of an occupation, vocational self-efficacy beliefs, career aspirations
The lack of qualified workers for traditionally male occupa-
tions, like in the STEM-field (Science Technology
Engineering and Mathematics), remains a worldwide prob-
lem (World Economic Forum, 2010). During the last dec-
ade, Europe has seen a further decrease in the percentage
of STEM-related high school and university degrees
(OECD-EUROSTAT, 2012 as cited in VRWI, 2012): Even
so in this domain many job offers cannot be filled, both
young men and women tend to choose a non-STEM-related
education, running the risk of finding no adequate
employment.
While vocational development constitutes a lifelong
process, the nascent period is in childhood (e.g., Hartung,
Porfeli, & Vondracek, 2005, 2008; Watson & McMahon,
2005, 2007): Primary school children develop early occupa-
tional aspirations which are predictors of later academic
and professional choices (e.g., Magnuson & Starr, 2000;
Seligman, Weinstock, & Heflin, 1991; Trice, 1991; Trice
& McClellan, 1993, 1994; Weisgram, Bigler, & Liben,
2010). An important reason why the majority of children
do not aspire for STEM jobs has to do with their expecta-
tions of being successful in these particular jobs. Bandura’s
(1995) work suggests that self-efficacy, that is, a person’s
belief as regards being able to successfully master the
challenges associated with a particular job, strongly impacts
educational and occupational aspirations and choices.
For instance, Bandura, Barbaranelli, Caprara, and Pastorelli
(2001) found children’s self-efficacy beliefs to be important
predictors of their academic and career aspirations, even
after controlling for their actual scholastic performance.
Similarly, in their expectancy model of achievement-
related choices Eccles and her colleagues (Eccles, 2007,
2011; Eccles & Wigfield, 1995) have assumed that occupa-
tional aspirations rest upon expectancies of success and task
values: The stronger individuals perceive their ability to do
well in an occupation, the less difficult they consider the
occupation to be for them, and the more value they attribute
to the occupation under consideration (intrinsic interest,
extrinsic utility value, importance, subjective costs), the
more probable it is that they will strive for that occupation.
Hence, interventions aiming at increasing enrollment in
traditionally male occupations such as STEM-related jobs
might be particularly effective when focused on boosting
self-efficacy beliefs and when deployed during the primary
school years. This is especially true as self-efficacy is a cru-
cial concept which not only influences vocational choices
but also impacts actual educational achievement: Students
with high self-efficacy beliefs perform better in school than
Social Psychology 2015; Vol. 46(2):76–92
DOI: 10.1027/1864-9335/a000229
2015 Hogrefe Publishing
Author’s personal copy (e-offprint)
students with low self-efficacy beliefs (for reviews see
Multon, Brown, & Lent, 1991; Richardson, Abraham, &
Bond, 2012; Robbins et al., 2004). Conversely, low self-
efficacy beliefs have been related to negative outcomes
such as school failure (Bandura, 1995; Bandura et al.,
2001). In this paper we want to investigate gender fair lan-
guage as a tool to promote children’s self-efficacy toward
traditionally male occupations. We also want to shed light
on the mechanism via which the use of gender fair language
may impact children’s self-efficacy beliefs toward gendered
occupations.
Gendered Occupational Stereotypes
One of the causes for children’s low self-efficacy beliefs
toward stereotypically male jobs is the operation of gender
stereotypes (Eagly, 1987). Traditionally, male occupations
are perceived as difficult and as high in status and thus as
less accessible than other occupations. Gendered percep-
tions of occupations develop as children are repeatedly
exposed to men and women acting in traditionally gen-
der-typed occupational (and other social) roles (cf. Social
Role Theory: Eagly, 1987; Eagly, Wood, & Diekman,
2000). As a result, children learn that on average, women
work in lower status professions than men and maleness
becomes associated with higher status and hence, higher
difficulty of tasks, than femaleness (e.g., Alksnis,
Desmarai, & Curtis, 2008; Furnham & Wilson, 2011;
Liben, Bigler, & Krogh, 2001; West, Heilman, Gullett,
Moss-Racusin, & Magee, 2012; Williams, Paluck, &
Spencer-Rodgers, 2010).
Research on occupational stereotypes shows that indi-
viduals make generalizations about particular jobs, for
instance, which kind of people work in these jobs, what
kind of work they do, and how appropriate the job is for dif-
ferent social groups (Gottfredson, 1981). Male occupations
are, by definition, associated with the male gender. Since
males have greater economic and political power than
females pan-culturally, already children associate male
occupations with higher status and prestige, higher task dif-
ficulty, and lower subjective probabilities to attain them
(e.g., Neff, Cooper, & Woodruff, 2007; Teig & Susskind,
2008). For instance, studies investigating the image of
mathematics and science found school students to not only
(implicitly and explicitly) associate them with maleness
(e.g., Cvencek, Meltzoff, & Greenwald, 2011; Nosek,
Banaji, & Greenwald, 2002; Plante, Théorét, & Favreau,
2009; Steffens & Jelenec, 2011; Steffens, Jelenec, &
Noack, 2010), but also with higher difficulty (Hannover
& Kessels, 2004; Kessels & Hannover, 2007; Kessels,
Rau, & Hannover, 2006) – compared to subject domains
related to languages or social sciences.
In her theory on the development of occupational aspi-
rations in children Gottfredson (1981) coined the term
‘perceived accessibility of an occupation’’ to describe indi-
viduals’ subjective judgments about how likely it is that
they can enter a particular occupation. According to
Gottfredson (2002), before the age of 13 children establish
‘tolerable effort boundaries,’’ making them reject occupa-
tional alternatives that seem too high in status/prestige or
pose too high a risk of failure because of their anticipated
difficulty. Expressed in Gottfredson’s terms, children of
either gender can be assumed to perceive male occupations
as less accessible than other jobs: They seem less within
reach, both in terms of perceived status/prestige, as well
as in terms of perceived difficulty or efforts required
(cf. Gottfredson, 2002, 2005).
To summarize, one of the reasons why children infre-
quently aspire for traditionally male vocations is that these
jobs are conceived of as less accessible, due to their high
difficulty and status. The perception of difficulty and status
is, however, not so much dependent on objective character-
istics of these occupations but rather due to the operation of
gender stereotypes. Therefore, influencing the gendered
perceptions of traditionally male occupations may influence
girls’ and boys’ perceptions of job accessibility (Gottfredson,
1981, 2005) and their self-efficacy beliefs (Chatard, Guimond,
& Martinot, 2005) toward these occupations.
Language and Gendered Perceptions
of Occupations
While changing the gendered perception of occupations has
long been recognized as a key to making jobs connoted as
male more appealing to young people (e.g., Hannover &
Kessels, 2004; Kessels et al., 2006), few interventions have
been investigated to tackle this issue (see Bailey & Nihlen,
1990; Barclay, 1974; Miller, 1986, for notable exceptions).
One way of influencing gendered perceptions of occupa-
tions and thus promoting careers in traditionally male occu-
pations may be via gender fair language. Recently, it has
been shown that gender cues in language influence adults’
(Stahlberg, Braun, Irmen, & Sczesny, 2007, for a review)
and even children’s (e.g., Vervecken, Hannover, & Wolter,
2013) gendered perceptions. However, little is known about
the influence of gendered language on primary school chil-
dren’s self-efficacy beliefs regarding traditionally male
occupations. In this paper we investigate whether making
explicit reference to both genders when describing occupa-
tions to primary school children, by using pair forms (e.g.,
Ingenieurinnen und Ingenieure [female and male] engi-
neers) rather than generic masculine forms (Ingenieure,
plural for engineers), is beneficial to promote their self-
efficacy toward traditionally male occupations. To fore-
shadow our argument, we predicted that the linguistic
intervention would operate in the following manner:
The explicit reference to both women and men implies that
both genders could do the job (Stahlberg et al., 2007, for a
review). This should strengthen perceptions of job accessi-
bility, with this perception in turn strengthening children’s
self-efficacy beliefs toward the occupations.
Most languages, for instance Spanish, German, or
French, are grammatical gender languages (see Prewitt-
Freilino, Caswell, & Laakso, 2012), that is, they provide
both a feminine and a masculine form for almost every per-
sonal noun (e.g., Lehrer und Lehrerin [male and female]
D. Vervecken & B. Hannover: Effects of Gender Fair Job Descriptions on Children 77
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2015 Hogrefe Publishing Social Psychology 2015; Vol. 46(2):76–92
teacher). When referring to mixed gender groups of people
or to groups whose gender composition is unknown or irrel-
evant, it is customary in grammatical gender languages to
use masculines generically (e.g., Lehrer, to denote a group
of male and female teachers). This linguistic convention has
long been criticized for its inherent sexism (e.g., Bussmann,
1995; Trömel-Plötz, 1982): Psycholinguistic research has
shown quite consistently that generic masculines trigger
male-only associations and inferences, rather than gender
balanced associations in recipients’ mental representations
(e.g., Braun, Gottburgsen, Sczesny, & Stahlberg, 1998;
Heise, 2000, 2003; Rothmund & Scheele, 2004; Stahlberg
& Sczesny, 2001; Stahlberg, Sczesny, & Braun, 2001;
Vervecken et al., 2013; see Gygax & Gabriel, 2011, for a
review). For instance, Gygax et al. (2012) asked their
French participants to work on a word association task in
which they had to decide whether a person introduced by
a kinship term (e.g., aunt) could be part of a group repre-
sented by a role name presented in a generic masculine
form (e.g., actors). Results showed that participants more
easily associated the generic masculine role noun with male
than with female kinship terms: ‘‘Incongruent’’ combina-
tions between female kinship terms and generic masculine
role nouns were more frequently rejected and endorsed
more slowly than ‘‘congruent’’ combinations. Stahlberg
and Sczesny (2001) asked their German-Speaking
participants to write down the names of famous musicians
or athletes, with instructions either provided in a generic
masculine form (e.g., Musiker, Sportler; plural for
musician, plural for athlete) or a pair form (e.g., Musikerin/
Musiker; Sportlerin/Sportler [female and male] musician
[female and male] athlete). Results clearly showed that
participants who had received the role nouns in pair forms
listed more female personalities than participants in the
generic masculine condition.
Informed by such findings from psycholinguistic
research, there have recently been efforts to introduce gen-
der fair alternatives into official language, with guidelines
for gender fair language forms published by numerous
organizations and publishing companies (e.g., American
Psychological Association [APA], 2009; Duden, 2006;
European Commission, 2008). The utmost important guide-
line for gender fair language (cf. Duden, 2006; Hellinger &
Bierbach, 1993) is the avoidance of generic masculines,
achieved, for instance, by making the biological sex of
the referent linguistically explicit through the use of pair
forms.
Whereas most research to date regarding this issue has
been conducted with adults, there is evidence suggesting
that children’s interpretations of occupations are also influ-
enced by gender cues in language (Hyde, 1984; Liben
Bigler, & Krogh, 2002; Schau & Scott, 1984; Scott,
1986; Vervecken et al., 2013). Liben and her colleagues
(2002; Study 1) asked English-Speaking children aged
6–11 whether various job titles, which were either linguis-
tically unmarked for gender (e.g., doctor), weakly marked
for gender (e.g., postmaster), or strongly marked for gender
(e.g., policeman), could be used to describe both male and
female persons performing the job. When interpreting their
findings, Liben and her colleagues (2002) came to
conclude: ‘‘Analyses of responses to the unmarked titles
demonstrate that some children do not understand that gen-
der-neutral occupational titles are universally applicable to
both men and women’’ (p. 816). It seems, job titles
unmarked for gender (in a natural gender language like
English) are not necessarily gender neutral – as is true for
job titles described in the generic masculine (in grammati-
cal gender languages): They more likely trigger male
mental representations than gender balanced ones.
In a similar vein, Vervecken and his colleagues (2013)
recently demonstrated that primary school children associ-
ate stereotypically male occupations presented in a pair
form, rather than in a generic masculine form, more
strongly with female jobholders. In a study by Hyde
(1984) children were given a fictitious job description,
‘wudgemaker,’’ with repeated reference to the jobholder
by either the pronouns ‘‘he,’’ ‘‘they,’ ‘‘he or she,’’ or
‘she.’’ Children’s ratings of how well women could do
the job were significantly affected by the pronoun, with
children in the generic ‘‘he’’ condition considering women
to be less capable than children in the remaining pronoun-
conditions.
Feminization = Higher Job Accessibility?
The above-cited research suggests that explicit reference to
both male and female jobholders in occupational titles coin-
cides with some kind of ‘‘feminization’’ in the perception of
that occupational group: Individuals are inclined to associ-
ate women more easily with these occupations and to
believe that more women can succeed in these occupations
(e.g., Stahlberg et al., 2007; Vervecken et al., 2013). Conse-
quently, presenting stereotypically male occupations in pair
forms might make these jobs appear more accessible in
terms of reachable status and manageable difficulty level
(Gottfredson, 1981, 2005).
Subjective job accessibility should be increased by mak-
ing traditionally male jobs appear more within reach, that
is, as not particularly unattainable in terms of difficulty
level or status. To achieve this, in our study we explicitly
referred to female and male jobholders (via pair forms
rather than generic masculine forms) when describing ste-
reotypically male occupations to children. Since the percep-
tions of high difficulty and high status are not inherent to
traditionally male jobs themselves but result from gender
stereotypes and occupational stereotypes, describing these
jobs via explicit reference to both, males and females,
should be effective in strengthening children’s perceptions
of accessibility of these occupations.
Indirect support for this assumption is provided by
research showing that when children or adults are asked
to indicate their perceptions of level of earnings (status)
or levels of difficulty for different occupations and activi-
ties, stereotypically female activities and occupations
receive systematically lower ratings than stereotypically
male activities and occupations (e.g., Berscheid, 1993;
Beyer, 1990; Bradley, 1989; Liben et al., 2001; Teig &
78 D. Vervecken & B. Hannover: Effects of Gender Fair Job Descriptions on Children
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Social Psychology 2015; Vol. 46(2):76–92 2015 Hogrefe Publishing
Susskind, 2008; Williams et al., 2010). For example,
Williams and her colleagues (2010) demonstrated that
adults tend to hold an automatic association linking men,
more than women, with wealth (salary estimation effect).
The authors emphasize that it is not people’s knowledge
of the pay gap which leads to differential estimates of men’s
and women’s salaries but rather the presence of a general
male-wealth stereotype – largely operating outside people’s
awareness – which causes the differential judgment of
men’s and womens wages. In the same vein, research find-
ings from Neff et al. (2007) suggest that children aged 7–15
generally believe that men are granted more social status
than females. Although this belief is amplified with age,
it is already present in primary school children.
Further support for the assumption that explicit
reference to female jobholders in stereotypically male voca-
tions may lead to ascriptions of higher job accessibility
(Gottfredson, 1981, 2005) comes from experimental studies
which manipulated the gender of workers (e.g., Alksnis
et al., 2008; Cejka & Eagly, 1999; Diekman & Eagly,
2000; Eagly & Steffen, 1984; Eagly & Wood, 1982;
Furnham & Wilson, 2011; Hogue & Yoder, 2003;
Johannesen-Schmidt, & Eagly, 2002; Kanekar, Maharukh,
& Kolsawalla, 1989; Liben et al., 2001; Touhey, 1974).
For instance, in a study by Liben and her colleagues
(2001) primary school children were presented fictitious
job descriptions which were combined with pictures of
either a male or a female jobholder. Regardless of their gen-
der, children ascribed lower earnings (status) and lower lev-
els of difficulty to jobs when they had been presented with
afemalethanamalejobholder.
These studies all suggest that perceptions of occupa-
tional status and difficulty are not inherently connected
with the job itself but can at least be partially explained
by gender stereotypes and occupational stereotypes.
Against the background of these findings we speculated
(a) that explicitly referring to females and males via pair
forms when describing stereotypically male occupations
may strengthen children’s mental associations with female
jobholders and thus their perceptions of accessibility
(Gottfredson, 1981, 2005) of such jobs, and (b) that these
effects should be observed in children of both genders.
Higher Job Accessibility = Self-Assurance?
Perceptions of increased job accessibility, as a result of
describing traditionally male occupations in a pair form,
should in turn strengthen children’s self-efficacy expecta-
tions toward these jobs. Bandura (1995) defined self-
efficacy as ‘‘the belief in one’s capabilities to organize
and execute the courses of action required to manage pro-
spective situations’’ (p. 2). Job-related self-efficacy should
be experienced to the extent that individuals think of them-
selves as meeting the demands (e.g., status, difficulty) of
the job. So, if pair form descriptions coincide with the
job appearing more accessible, then this should strengthen
children’s self-efficacy beliefs toward these occupations.
Support for this assumption comes from a study by
Chatard and colleagues (2005). They presented a list of
occupational titles to 15-year-old French-Speaking students
either in generic masculines or in pair forms. Participants
were then asked to indicate their level of confidence in
passing the qualification examination required for the job.
Results showed that both young men and women from
the pair form condition felt more confident about passing
the test than participants from the generic masculine condi-
tion. Whereas this study substantiates our assumption that
boys’ and girls’ self-efficacy can be boosted when stereo-
typically male occupations are presented in pair forms, it
did not test why this would be the case. We assume that
the ascription of higher job accessibility mediates the effect
of pair form use on self-efficacy beliefs.
Rationale and Overview of
Our Studies
In sum, research suggests that perceptions of status and dif-
ficulty of different occupations as well as occupational self-
efficacy beliefs are not inherent to these jobs themselves
but can at least partially be explained by gender stereotypes
and occupational stereotypes. Other research attests to gen-
der information encoded in language influencing people’s
gendered perception of occupations. Tying these notions
together, we aimed at testing the assumption that percep-
tions of status and difficulty, that is, of accessibility of ste-
reotypically male occupations, can be influenced by the
linguistic form used to describe them. The current research
also aimed at revealing the interrelation between percep-
tions of job accessibility and self-efficacy beliefs. We tested
the following hypotheses:
Hypothesis 1 (H1): The use of pair forms (compared
to generic masculines) when describing stereotypi-
cally male occupations strengthens girls’ and boys’
perceptions of accessibility – in terms of reachable
status and manageable difficulty – of these jobs.
Hypothesis 2 (H2): The use of pair forms (compared
to generic masculines) when describing stereotypi-
cally male occupations promotes girls’ and boys’
vocational self-efficacy toward them.
Hypothesis 3 (H3): The positive impact of pair forms
(compared to generic masculines) on girls’ and boys’
vocational self-efficacy is mediated by their percep-
tions of job accessibility – in particular job status
and job difficulty.
Two experiments with primary school children
(N= 591) were conducted to examine these hypotheses.
Although we did not expect any gender-specific effects,
given the lack of relevant research for this age group,
D. Vervecken & B. Hannover: Effects of Gender Fair Job Descriptions on Children 79
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2015 Hogrefe Publishing Social Psychology 2015; Vol. 46(2):76–92
we also explored the possible differential influence of chil-
dren’s gender. We chose to test our hypotheses with primary
school children between 6 and 12 years because this age
phase is crucial in the development of gender stereotypes
(Blakemore, Berenbaum, & Liben, 2009; Ruble, Martin,
& Berenbaum, 2006), occupational aspirations (Hartung
et al., 2005, 2008; Porfeli, Hartung, & Vondracek, 2008;
Watson & McMahon, 2005), and of tolerable effort bound-
aries (Gottfredson, 2002). We also tested whether age might
moderate the impact of our intervention on children’s per-
ceptions of job accessibility and reported self-efficacy
beliefs.
To enhance the generalizability of our findings, we sam-
pled children from two different linguistic backgrounds and
investigated whether the pair forms versus generic mascu-
lines manipulation would have the same impact regardless
of children’s first language: About half of the children were
from Germany and were native speakers of German.
The other half of the children were from Belgium and were
native speakers of Dutch. Both languages are grammatical
gender languages and know generic masculines as well as
pair forms.
In Experiment 1, we first explored the influence of pair
form versus generic masculine job descriptions on chil-
dren’s perceptions of job status. Children were asked to esti-
mate how much people earn (from ‘‘very little’’ to ‘‘very
much’’), as previous studies have done to measure occupa-
tional status or prestige (cf. Berscheid, 1993; Beyer, 1990;
Bradley, 1989; Gottfredson, 1981, Gottfredson, 2005; Liben
et al., 2001; Williams et al., 2010). In Experiment 2, we
added other indicators of status (importance of the job),
and indicators of perceived job difficulty and tested
whether the effect of the linguistic intervention was medi-
ated via perceptions of job status and job difficulty.
General Methodology
Procedure
Two quasi-experiments were designed in which existing
class constellations were preserved, and the experimental
manipulation ( job titles in pair forms vs. job titles in gen-
eric masculines) was varied on the class level only. The
experiments were conducted during regular school hours:
A member of the research team went into classes and ran
the experiment while the teacher remained in the back of
the class. Because in both Belgium and Germany primary
school teachers are almost exclusively female, we selected
a female teacher within one school to give the instructions
in all participating classes. The teacher presented the job
titles with brief job descriptions to make sure that all chil-
dren had the same job in mind. These descriptions were
held constant across conditions (e.g., generic masculine
condition (= control group): ‘Firemen are persons who
extinguish fires,’’ pair form condition (= experimental
group): ‘‘Firewomen and firemen are persons who
extinguish fires’’). Job titles were presented one after
another, with the children indicating their responses in a
questionnaire immediately afterwards. While stereotypi-
cally male occupations were the primary focus, to provide
children with a broader range of job descriptions and to dis-
guise the purpose of the study, stereotypically female and
gender-neutral occupations were included as filler items.
The job descriptions differing in gender stereotypicality
were orally presented by the teacher to the children in a ran-
dom order. All occupational titles used in the two experi-
ments are listed in the appendix.
Analysis
Since existing class constellations were preserved, we
applied a standard linear regression model (total regression)
with a standard error correction for complex data
(Mplus5, Muthen & Muthen, 2007) instead of traditional
MANCOVA analysis. Without this correction, standard
errors would have been underestimated and significance
tests would have been biased, given the complex data struc-
ture of pupils being nested in classes (Bryk & Raudenbush,
1992). All data were also analyzed using multilevel linear
analysis to reflect the data’s hierarchical structure. Results
were the same as the ones reported with the standard error
correction.
To test our assumption that the linguistic form (pair
form or generic masculine) used in presenting occupational
titles would impact children’s perceptions of job accessibil-
ity and their vocational self-efficacy beliefs, we conducted
separate multiple regression analyses for our three criterion
variables: stereotypically male, female, and gender-neutral
occupations. All categorical variables (linguistic interven-
tion, participant gender, language) were effect coded
(values 1 and 1) and the continuous variable (age) was
centered (Aiken & West, 1991). The two effect coded
variables, childrens age, and the two-way interaction terms
between children’s gender and linguistic intervention,
language and linguistic intervention as well as age and
linguistic intervention were entered simultaneously.
Experiment 1
Participants
Participants were children (N= 435) attending classes 1–6
from a total of 24 different classes gathered from 2 different
primary schools in Belgium (n= 212) and 2 different pri-
mary schools in Germany (n= 223). From the German
schools, 113 pupils (60 female and 53 male) were assigned
to the experimental group and 110 pupils (54 female and 56
male) to the control group. From the Belgium schools, 107
pupils (59 female and 48 male) were assigned to the exper-
imental group and 105 pupils (60 female and 45 male) to
the control group. Mean age of the children in the experi-
mental group was 9 years and 3 months (SD =1.7)and
of the children in the control group 8 years and 9 months
(SD =1.8).
80 D. Vervecken & B. Hannover: Effects of Gender Fair Job Descriptions on Children
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Materials
Job Accessibility in Terms of Status
Job titles representing stereotypically male, female, and
gender-neutral occupations were selected based on a list
of role names which Gabriel, Gygax, Sarrasin, Garnham,
and Oakhill (2008) and Irmen and Schumann (2011) had
rated with reference to their perceived gender stereotypical-
ity. From these lists we selected eight stereotypically male
(< 30% women), five stereotypically female (> 70%
women), and three gender-neutral (45–55% women) occu-
pational titles and amended a description for each of them.
One of the stereotypically male items was for instance:
‘Erfinderinnen und Erfinder: Personen, die neue Sachen
entdecken’’ (female and male inventors, people who invent
new things). An example for the stereotypically female
occupations was: ‘‘Kosmetikerinnen und Kosmetiker,
Leute, die andere hübsch machen’’ (female and male beau-
ticians, people who make others more beautiful). Following
each presentation of an occupation title by the teacher, chil-
dren were asked: ‘‘How much do you think ______ get
paid?’’ The answering scale ranged from 1 = very little,
to 5 = very much. Children’s responses were then aggre-
gated to calculate three variables: perceived status of stereo-
typically male occupations (a= .78), stereotypically female
occupations (a= .68), and gender-neutral occupations
(a= .54). Means and standard deviations for the dependent
variables are reported in Table 1.
Results
We expected that the presentation of stereotypically male
job descriptions in linguistic pair forms would strengthen
children’s estimates of the jobs’ accessibility. Since this
effect was expected to come about by the stronger associa-
tion of the job titles with female jobholders (triggered by
the pair form presentation), it should appear in attenuated
salary estimates. No such effect was expected to occur
for stereotypically female or gender-neutral occupations.
Perceived Accessibility (in Terms of Status)
of Stereotypically Male Occupations
Multiple regression analysis revealed a significant two-way
interaction effect between linguistic intervention and
children’s gender, b=.02, b=.07, t(428) = 2.02,
p= .04. Post hoc tests of the interaction showed that boys
ascribed lower earnings to stereotypically male occupations
in the pair form condition than in the generic masculine
condition, b=.07, t(428) = 2.23, p= .02. While the
pair form intervention also tended to diminish girls’ earning
beliefs, this effect was not statistically signif icant,
b=.03, t(428) = 0.89, p= .43. Figure 1 visualizes this
interaction. As a concomitant of this interaction, addition-
ally, a marginally significant main effect for the linguistic
intervention appeared, b=.04, b=.10, t(428) = 1.72,
p=.08.
Furthermore, the analysis revealed a significant main
effect for age, b=.05, b=.18 t(428) = 2.51,
p< .001: The older the children, the less money they
believed people in stereotypically male occupations would
earn. The analysis also showed a significant main effect
of children’s first language, b=.06, b=.14,
t(428) = 2.37, p= .02. In general, Dutch-speaking children
believed that persons in stereotypically male occupations
would earn more money, compared to German-speaking
children. There was also a significant main effect for chil-
dren’s gender, b=.03, b=.07, t(428) = 2.51, p< .05:
On average, boys attributed higher earnings to stereotypi-
cally male jobs than girls.
Tabl e 1 . Means and standard deviations (in parentheses) for status perceptions of male, female, and gender-neutral
occupations according to experimental conditions in Experiment 1
Occupation
Condition Gender Male Female Neutral
GM Boys 3.85 (0.45) 2.70 (0.54) 4.05 (0.69)
Girls 3.76 (0.44) 2.89 (0.52) 4.01 (0.68)
PF Boys 3.71 (0.45) 2.81 (0.62) 3.94 (0.70)
Girls 3.69 (0.41) 3.00 (0.56) 3.93 (0.63)
Notes. GM = generic masculine; PF = pair form. Scale range = 1 = very little to 5 = very much.
Lin
g
uistic Intervention
3.85
3.71
1 = very little
3.69
5 = very much
3.76
Boys
Girls
Pair
Form
Generic
Masculine
Perceived Status
Figure 1. Perceived status of male occupations split by
linguistic intervention groups and children’s gender in
Experiment 1.
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Perceived Accessibility (in Terms of Status)
of Other Occupations
As expected, the linguistic intervention did not influence
children’s beliefs about earnings in stereotypically female
and gender-neutral occupations (see Table 2 for an over-
view of all results).
Discussion
The primary purpose of Experiment 1 was to explore
whether the use of pair forms (compared to generic mascu-
line forms) when presenting occupations increases chil-
dren’s perceptions of accessibility (in terms of status) of
stereotypically male occupations. The dependent measure
was the level of income children believed the holders of
certain occupations would earn. Our findings suggest that
boys’ perceptions of accessibility with regard to stereotyp-
ically male occupations were indeed affected by the linguis-
tic intervention. Although girls also tended to ascribe lower
earnings to stereotypically male occupations when they
were presented in a pair form (compared to generic mascu-
line form), this trend was not statistically significant.
An explanation for why the linguistic intervention affected
boys but not girls might lie in the way we operationalized
accessibility. We asked children how much money they
thought that workers in these occupations earn. A study
by Weisgram and her colleagues (2010) showed that males
(also including primary school children) but not females
were more interested in an occupation if it was described
as a high income job (compared to when the identical job
was depicted as high in power, or as strongly associated
with family or altruistic values). Similarly, in samples of
children of about the same age as the girls and boys partic-
ipating in our study, Teig and Susskind (2008) found that
girls preferred feminine over masculine jobs, irrespective
of status, while boys’ preferences were influenced by both,
the jobs’ gender connotation and status. These findings sug-
gest that boys are more sensitive to cues indicating status
via earnings than girls, providing an explanation for why
our intervention only worked for boys. At the same time,
however, they also suggest that ascriptions of lower earn-
ings not necessarily coincide with the perception of higher
job accessibility; an interpretation which seems also plausi-
ble against the background of our finding that boys attrib-
uted higher earnings to stereotypically male jobs than
girls. We therefore used additional indicators of job acces-
sibility in Experiment 2.
Another explanation for why the linguistic intervention
seemingly only impacted boys could be age-related. A main
effect for children’s age indicated that the younger children
were, the more earnings they generally ascribed to
occupations. After more closely examining our group com-
positions, it became apparent that by coincidence, girls in
the pair form condition were significantly younger than
girls in the generic masculine condition. This age imbal-
ance between the groups might have neutralized the effect
of the linguistic intervention on girls’ perceptions of
workers’ earnings in stereotypically male occupations.
In Experiment 2 groups were matched for age.
While the focus of our study was on the impact of the
linguistic manipulation on the perception of stereotypically
male occupations, we had included descriptions of female
and gender-neutral jobs. In line with our notion that the
effect on children’s perceptions of job accessibility should
come about via the ‘‘feminization’’ of traditionally male
occupation, results demonstrated no impact of the linguist
pair form intervention on stereotypically female and
gender-neutral occupations. This pattern of findings sug-
gests that our participants did in fact differentiate between
the three kinds of occupations. Also, it is consistent with
previous research showing that pair forms increase associa-
tions with women and foster gender balanced attitudes with
regard to traditionally male occupations (e.g., Stahlberg
et al., 2007; Vervecken et al., 2013).
In summarizing, Experiment 1 produced initial evidence
for our assumption that when stereotypically male occupa-
tions were presented in a pair form rather than in a generic
masculine form, ascriptions of earnings tended to be
Tabl e 2 . Predictors of perceived status of male, female, and neutral occupations in Experiment 1
Occupation
Male Female Neutral
bSE(b)bR
2
bSE(b)bR
2
bSE(b)bR
2
Intercept 3.758 .032 2.854 .035 3.961 .037
LI .044
.026 .099 .050 .035 .086 .006 .037 .009
Gender .033* .017 .073 .090* .031 .156 .013 .041 .018
Age .047* .016 .182 .120* .023 .362 .118* .024 .288
L.061* .026 .136 .112* .039 .194 .040 .036 .057
LI ·Gender .024* .016 .071 .004 .032 .006 .032 .041 .045
LI ·L.018 .034 .038 .059 .023 .102 .013 .036 .018
LI ·Age .011 .020 .041 .005 .023 .014 .026 .018 .070
.073* .237* .113*
Notes. Effect codes: LI = Linguistic intervention (generic masculine = 1, pair form = 1), Gender (girl = 1, boy = 1), L = Lan-
guage (German = 1, Dutch = 1), Age is grand mean centered. Scale range = 1–5. *p< .05,
p< .10.
82 D. Vervecken & B. Hannover: Effects of Gender Fair Job Descriptions on Children
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Social Psychology 2015; Vol. 46(2):76–92 2015 Hogrefe Publishing
attenuated. However, this effect was only due to the boys
participating in our study. With Experiment 2, we wanted
to replicate Experiment 1, while clarifying why the
linguistic intervention did not have an impact on girls in
our first study. First, to preclude that a potential effect of
the intervention on girls would be nullified by age
differences between experimental and control groups, in
Experiment 2 we controlled for the possible confound of
children’s age. And second, supposing that possibly subjec-
tive job accessibility is not adequately or sufficiently
described by income levels, we used a broader set of mea-
sures. More specifically, in addition to assumed earnings
(cf. Berscheid, 1993; Beyer, 1990; Bradley, 1989; Gottfred-
son, 1981, 2005; Liben et al., 2001; Williams et al., 2010)
we asked children to estimate the jobs’difficulty (cf. Eccles,
2011; Eccles & Wigfield, 1995). Finally, we aimed to show
that by presenting occupations in pair forms children’s
vocational self-efficacy beliefs can be boosted (Hypothesis
2) and that childrens perceptions of job accessibility medi-
ate the influence of the linguistic intervention on vocational
self-efficacy beliefs (Hypothesis 3).
Experiment 2
Participants
Participants were children (N= 154) attending classes 3–6
from primary schools in Germany (n= 77) and Belgium
(n= 77). German participants’ age ranged from 7 to
12 years. Forty-one pupils (20 female and 21 male) were
assigned to the control group (i.e., generic masculine forms)
and 36 pupils (17 female and 19 male) to the experimental
group (i.e., pair forms). Belgian participants’ age ranged
from 7 to 13 years. Forty pupils (17 female and 23 male)
were assigned to the experimental group and 37 pupils
(27 female and 10 male) to the control group. Experimental
and control group were well matched for age: The mean
age of children from the experimental groups was 10 years
(SD = 1.1) and the mean age of control group children was
10 years and 2 months (SD = 1.3).
Materials
Job Accessibility (in Terms of Status and Difficulty)
The same lists of eight stereotypically male and five stereo-
typically female occupational titles as in Experiment 1 were
used. Since Experiment 1 confirmed our expectation that
the linguistic treatment would not affect perceptions of gen-
der-neutral jobs, those were no longer included. Thus, only
stereotypically female occupations served as filler items in
Experiment 2, leaving a total of 13 occupations. To measure
subjective job accessibility (status and difficulty), compared
to Experiment 1 we now used a more comprehensive
set of questions adapted from Liben and colleagues
(2002): For each of the 13 jobs children were asked four
questions:
a) ‘How important is it to be ___?’’
b) ‘How hard is it to do the job of ____?’’
c) ‘How hard is it to learn the profession of _____?’’ and
d) ‘How much money do you think ____ get paid?’
The answering scales ranged from 1 = not at all,to
5=very much. To gain a deeper understanding of the
dimensionality of subjective job accessibility we ran explor-
atory factor analysis on the four questions (principal com-
ponent analysis), extracting factors with an
eigenvalue > 1 while using the varimax rotation method.
Results of this analysis suggested that the four items should
best be reduced to two dimensions. The items relating to
‘difficulty of doing the job’’ (factor loading = .89) and
‘difficulty of learning to do the job’’ (factor loading = .89)
loaded on the first dimension ‘‘difficulty,’’ explaining 43%
of the variance with an eigenvalue of 2.99 (no loadings
higher than .2 on the other dimension). The items ‘‘impor-
tance of the job’’ (factor loading = .72) and ‘‘money
earned’’ (factor loadings = .92) had substantial loadings
on the second dimension ‘‘status, explaining 34% of the
variance with an eigenvalue of 1.50 (no loadings higher
than .2 on the other dimension).
The same factor analysis conducted on traditionally
female occupations yielded analogous results: The first fac-
tor ‘‘difficulty’’ explained 43% of the variance with an
eigenvalue of 1.98 (difficulty to do the job: factor load-
ing = .91; difficulty of learning to do the job: factor load-
ing = .91; no loadings higher than .2 on the other factor).
The second factor ‘‘status’’ explained 37% of the variance
with an eigenvalue of 1.25 (importance: factor load-
ing = .82; money: factor loading = .89; no loadings higher
than .2 on the other factor).
Finally, we aggregated children’s ratings to obtain a sta-
tus measure (a= .65) and a difficulty measure (a=.78)for
traditionally male occupations, and a status measure
(a= .67) as well as a difficulty measure (a= .82) for tradi-
tionally female occupations.
Vocational Self-Efficacy
Adapted from the study by Chatard et al. (2005), for each
occupation, we asked children: ‘‘Imagine you wanted to
become ..., how confident are you that you would pass
the qualification test required to do this job when you are
grown up?’’ The answering scale ranged from 1 = very
little,to5=very much (male occupations: a= .81, female
occupations: a=.64).
Analysis
The same regression analyses as in Experiment 1 were
conducted on the current dataset. Results are depicted in
Tables 4 and 5. Means and standard deviations for the
dependent variables are reported in Table 3.
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Results
Perceived Accessibility (in Terms of Status and
Difficulty) of Stereotypically Male Occupations
Multiple regression revealed a significant main effect of the
linguistic intervention on children’s perceived status of
stereotypically male occupations, b=.06, b=.17,
t(147) = 3.73, p< .001: When male occupations were
presented in pair forms, children – regardless of their gen-
der, first language, or age – perceived them as lower in sta-
tus than when the jobs had been presented in masculines as
generic. Also, perceived difficulty of stereotypically male
occupations was affected by the linguistic intervention,
Tabl e 3 . Means and standard deviations (in parentheses) for status perceptions, difficulty perceptions, and vocational
self-efficacy toward male and female jobs according to experimental condition in Experiment 2
Occupation Occupation
Condition Gender Male status Male difficulty Female status Female difficulty Male self-efficacy Female self-efficacy
GM Boys 4.09 (0.50) 3.88 (0.43) 3.19 (0.60) 2.76 (0.06) 2.99 (0.72) 3.50 (0.75)
Girls 4.04 (0.47) 4.11 (0.83) 3.31 (0.57) 2.80 (0.54) 2.26 (0.56) 3.57 (0.63)
PF Boys 3.91 (0.43) 3.60 (0.61) 3.09 (0.59) 2.64 (0.61) 3.23 (0.73) 3.53 (0.72)
Girls 3.78 (0.51) 3.78 (0.64) 3.36 (0.57) 2.68 (0.45) 2.52 (0.77) 3.62 (0.58)
Notes. GM = generic masculine; PF = pair form. Scale range = 1–5.
Tabl e 4 . Predictors of perceived status and perceived difficulty of male and female occupations in Experiment 2
Occupation
Male Female
Status Difficulty Status Difficulty
bSE(b)bR
2
bSE(b)bR
2
bSE(b)bR
2
bSE(b)bR
2
Intercept 4.173 .017 3.905 .024 3.231 .029 2.684 .062
LI .064* .017 .174 .153* .024 .268 .045 .025 .079 .088 .062 .159
Gender .025 .025 .067 .068 .091 .068 .106* .033 .186 0.73 .067 .132
Age .017 .015 .057 .031 .022 .067 .128* .023 .273 .010 .045 .023
L .031 .017 .084 .082* .027 .143 .117* .030 .206 .188* .075 .339
LI ·Gender .022 .025 .060 .042 .091 .073 .052 .033 .091 .005 .067 .009
LI ·L .019 .017 .051 .007 .027 .012 .006 .030 .011 .022 .075 .040
LI ·Age .043 .027 .140 .066 .038 .137 .015 .023 .031 .003 .045 .005
.07* .16* .15* .15*
Notes. Scale range = 1–5. Effect codes: LI = Linguistic intervention (generic masculine = 1, pair form = 1), Gender (girl = 1,
boy = 1), L = Language (German = 1, Dutch = 1), Age is grand mean centered. *p< .05.
Tabl e 5 . Predictors of self-efficacy toward male and female occupations in Experiment 2
Occupation
Male Female
bSE(b)bR
2
bSE(b)bR
2
Intercept 2.753 .017 3.563 .054
LI .117* .017 .148 .009 .054 .013
Gender .361* .071 .456 .028 .049 .042
Age .019 .028 .029 .044 .059 .082
L .022 .033 .022 .184* .065 .281
LI ·Gender .007 .071 .007 .040 .049 .040
LI ·L.021 .033 .021 .048 .065 .073
LI ·Age .014 .028 .021 .052 .059 .094
.246* .071
Notes. Scale range = 1–5. Effect codes: LI = Linguistic intervention (generic masculine = 1, pair form = 1), Gender (girl = 1,
boy = 1), L = Language (Germany = 1, Belgium = 1). Age is grand mean centered. *p< .05.
84 D. Vervecken & B. Hannover: Effects of Gender Fair Job Descriptions on Children
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b=.15, b=.27, t(147) = 6.58, p< .001: When male
occupations were presented in pair forms, children – regard-
less of their gender, first language, or age – perceived them
as less difficult than when the jobs had been presented in
masculine as generic.
Vocational Self-Efficacy Beliefs Toward
Stereotypically Male Occupations
Multiple regression analysis revealed a significant main
effect of the linguistic intervention on children’s self-
efficacy toward stereotypically male occupations, b=.12,
b=.15,t(147) = 4.07, p< .001. When job titles had been
presented in pair forms, children – regardless of their gen-
der, first language, or age – felt more confident that they
could pass a qualification test required to do this job than
when the professions had been presented as generic
masculine. Furthermore, the analysis revealed a significant
main effect for children’s gender, b= .36, b=.46,
t(147) = 4.70, p< .001: Boys generally felt more confident
that they could succeed in stereotypically male occupations
than girls.
Perceived Accessibility (in Terms of Status and
Difficulty) of and Self-Efficacy Beliefs Toward
Other Occupations
As expected, neither children’s perceptions of job accessi-
bility (status, difficulty) nor their self-efficacy beliefs with
regard to stereotypically female occupations were affected
by the linguistic intervention (see Tables 4 and 5 for an
overview of all results).
Mediation of the Effect of the Linguistic Intervention
on Children’s Vocational Self-Efficacy Beliefs Toward
Stereotypically Male Occupations via Perceptions
of Job Status and Job Difficulty
In order to investigate a possible multiple mediation from
perceptions of job accessibility (status and difficulty) on
vocational self-efficacy, we first analyzed whether the pre-
requisite conditions for assuming a mediation were met.
These conditions were met for job difficulty, but not for
job status perceptions: The linguistic intervention was a sta-
tistically significant predictor of perceived difficulty of ste-
reotypically male occupations, b=.17, t(147) = 3.76,
p< .001, and of children’s self-efficacy beliefs toward
them, b= .15, t(147) = 2.52, p= .01. Furthermore, chil-
dren’s perceptions of job difficulty were a statistically sig-
nificant predictor of their self-efficacy beliefs while
controlling for the impact of the linguistic intervention,
b=.38, t(147) = 3.70, p< .001 (cf. Figure 2). While
the linguistic intervention also predicted children’s percep-
tions of job status, b=.07, t(147) = 2.21, p=.03,per-
ceived status was not a significant predictor of children’s
self-efficacy, b= .29, t(147) = 1.90, p= .08.
We now conducted a mediation analysis only for the var-
iable for which the prerequisite conditions had been met:
job difficulty perceptions. We used the bootstrap method
with bias-corrected confidence estimates (MacKinnon,
Lockwood, & Williams, 2004; Preacher & Hayes, 2008).
In our sample, the 95% confidence interval for indirect
effects was obtained via 5,000 bootstrap resamples
(Preacher & Hayes, 2008). Results confirmed perceived
job difficulty of male occupations as mediating the relation
between the linguistic intervention and children’s self-
efficacy beliefs, b= .06, CI = .02–.13. The impact of the
linguistic intervention on children’s self-efficacy was nulli-
fied completely when controlling for perceived job diffi-
culty, b=.08,t(147) = 1.40, p= .17 (cf. Figure 2).
In summary, results indicate that it was perceptions of
job difficulty but not perceptions of job status that mediated
the relationship between the linguistic intervention and
vocational self-efficacy beliefs: Compared to children to
whom the jobs had been described in the generic masculine,
children in the linguistic pair form condition perceived ste-
reotypically male occupations as more accessible in terms
of lower difficulty to learn and to do the job, with the
strengthened subjective accessibility in turn reinforcing
children’s self-efficacy beliefs in their ability to meet the
requirements of these jobs.
Discussion
Experiment 2 deepened our understanding of the impact of
pair forms (compared to generic masculines) on children’s
perceptions of job accessibility (status and difficulty), voca-
tional self-efficacy beliefs, and how these constructs are
Perceived
Difficulty of Male
Occupations
-.38*-.17*
Self-Efficacy
Beliefs towards
Male Occupations
Linguistic
Intervention
(PF-GM)
.15* (.08, n.s.)
Figure 2. Unstandardized regression coefficients for the
relationship between linguistic intervention and voca-
tional self-efficacy beliefs as mediated by perceptions of
difficulty of male occupations in Experiment 2. Value
ratings for occupational status and vocational self-
efficacy beliefs from 1 (= not at all)to5(=very much),
effect code: linguistic intervention (generic mascu-
line = 1, pair form = 1). Unstandardized regression
coefficients between linguistic intervention and voca-
tional self-efficacy controlling for perceived status in
parentheses. *p< .05.
D. Vervecken & B. Hannover: Effects of Gender Fair Job Descriptions on Children 85
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related to each other. Going beyond Experiment 1, subjec-
tive job accessibility was measured via several indicators of
status (earnings, importance) and via difficulty (job diffi-
culty, job training difficulty). Results showed that while
the linguistic intervention impacted both, status and diffi-
culty perceptions, the boost in children’s self-efficacy
beliefs toward traditionally male occupations described to
them in pair forms was brought about by an attenuation
of ascribed difficulty only.
General Discussion
Combining previous research on the influence of gendered
language on social perception (e.g., Boroditsky Schmidt, &
Philips, 2003; Gygax & Gabriel, 2011) with work on gen-
der stereotypes (e.g., Diekman & Eagly, 2000), occupa-
tional stereotypes (Gottfredson, 1981, 2005), gendered
perceptions of difficulty (Eccles & Wigfield, 1995), and
vocational self-efficacy (e.g., Bandura et al., 2001; Chatard
et al., 2005), in our studies we experimentally investigated
whether presenting job descriptions in pair forms or in gen-
eric masculines differentially affected children’s perceptions
of job accessibility and vocational self-efficacy beliefs
toward stereotypically male jobs. We had expected that
the linguistic intervention would impact vocational self-
efficacy beliefs by the assignment of higher accessibility
to professions which, via the pair form presentation, were
more strongly associated with female jobholders. In addition,
we wanted to test whether the effects of the linguistic inter-
vention would be observed across groups of children from
different linguistic backgrounds: Dutch versus German.
As predicted, both boys and girls indicated higher levels
of self-efficacy beliefs toward stereotypically male occupa-
tions when the jobs had been described to them in pair
forms rather than in generic masculine forms in our second
study. This finding replicates the results which Chatard and
his colleagues (2005) had found in an older sample of
15-year-olds who reported higher vocational self-efficacy
beliefs toward occupations which had been presented
in pair forms (rather than in generic masculine forms).
Our study results are the first to show that pair form use
can boost vocational self-efficacy already in primary school
children aged 7–12.
Going beyond the study by Chatard and his colleagues
(2005), in our experiments we also investigated the psycho-
logical mechanisms underlying the effect of the linguistic
intervention. We had expected that by linguistically
strengthening the mental association between traditionally
male jobs and female jobholders the subjective accessibility
of the jobs would be increased: Children should consider
them as not out of reach and difficult as gender stereotypes
suggest.
In our first experiment, using assumed earnings as the
only indicator of job accessibility (i.e., status), solely boys’
perceptions were impacted by the linguistic intervention.
As previous research has found occupational income to
be of less importance to girls (Teig & Susskind, 2008;
Weisgram et al., 2010), in our second study we used a
broader set of indicators of job accessibility. Also, we dif-
ferentiated between job status (earnings, importance) on
the one hand and job difficulty (to do and to learn the
job) on the other. When importance was introduced as an
additional indicator in our second study, an impact of the
linguistic intervention on both boys’ and girls’ job status
perceptions could be substantiated. Also, it could be shown
that the use of pair forms significantly attenuated girls’ and
boys’ perceptions of difficulty to do and to learn a tradition-
ally male occupation. While our second study thus yielded
a clearer pattern of results than our first study, we still con-
sider the findings of the first experiment to be valuable.
Taken together, the two experiments provide a replication
of the effectiveness of our treatment: Generic masculine
forms versus pair forms do have a differential effect on chil-
dren’s perceptions of the accessibility of stereotypically
male occupations – with assumed earnings being insuffi-
cient a dependent variable to fully detect this effect.
To conclude, while past studies have shown that stating
both genders explicitly, instead of using a generically mas-
culine form, facilitates mental associations with women in
adults (Stahlberg et al., 2007) and in children (Vervecken
et al., 2013), our present research is the first to show that
this ‘‘linguistic feminization’ of stereotypically male occu-
pations also leads to the ascription of higher job accessibil-
ity by primary school children aged 6–12. This result
complements more general findings on gendered occupa-
tional stereotypes which demonstrate that both children
and adults tend to attribute higher levels of status and diffi-
culty to professions in which male jobholders outweigh
female ones (e.g., Alksnis et al., 2008; Eccles, 2011;
Furnham & Wilson, 2011; Liben et al., 2001; Teig &
Susskind, 2008; West et al., 2012; Williams et al., 2010).
Going beyond previous research, in our second study we
also identified the psychological mechanism linking subjec-
tive job accessibility to self-efficacy: The influence of the
linguistic intervention on children’s beliefs of being able
to meet the requirements of traditionally male jobs was
mediated through perceptions of job and training difficulty,
but not via the ascription of status: Traditionally male jobs
(but, as expected, not traditionally female ones) were
regarded as less difficult once they were associated with
female jobholders via the pair form description. Boys and
girls at that age have already acquired gender stereotypes
according to which tasks with a male connotation are ‘‘dif-
ficult ones’’ while tasks with a female connotation are
‘easy ones’’ (e.g., Alksnis et al., 2008; West et al., 2012;
Williams et al., 2010). As a result, they ascribe lower diffi-
culty to male occupations presented with an explicit refer-
ence to female jobholders and, as a result, experience a
stronger sense of self-efficacy toward these jobs. With
expectations of success (being inversely related to difficulty
perceptions) and self-efficacy being important predictors of
occupational preferences (e.g., Bandura et al., 2001; Eccles,
2011; Gottfredson, 1981, 2005), our findings thus also con-
tribute to an explanation for why young people are typically
not interested in advancing into domains that have a
strong male, high difficulty connotation, such as the
86 D. Vervecken & B. Hannover: Effects of Gender Fair Job Descriptions on Children
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STEM-professions (Eccles, 2011; Eccles et al., 1983;
Hannover & Kessels, 2004; Kessels et al., 2006).
Future Directions
Our results have implications for making stereotypically
male occupations more attractive. By combining our find-
ings regarding the impact of linguistic forms on children’s
perceptions of job accessibility with those on their voca-
tional self-efficacy beliefs, we gained an in-depth under-
standing of the underlying mechanism by which the boost
in children’s self-efficacy beliefs toward traditionally male
occupations was brought about: It was mediated by the
ascription of lower job and training difficulty. As high dif-
ficulty is no inherent characteristic of traditionally male
jobs but reflects the impact of gender stereotypes and occu-
pational stereotypes, it seems that educators describing ste-
reotypically male occupations to students in pair forms and
refraining from using generic masculine forms may boost
their students’ self-efficacy beliefs toward these occupa-
tions. Girls in particular might benefit from this self-
efficacy boost since they tend to report lower levels of
expectations of success and of self-efficacy toward tradi-
tionally male academic and professional domains (e.g.,
Eccles, 2007; Sainz & Eccles, 2012). Girls also tend to feel
more restricted than boys in the number of occupations
which they perceive to be ‘‘within reach’’ and ‘‘appropri-
ate’’ for them (e.g., Dorr & Lesser, 1980; Looft 1971;
McMahon & Patton, 1997). By presenting stereotypically
male occupations in a pair form, teachers might encourage
girls to consider more academic and professional options
instead of narrowing their options down from a very
early age.
Some researchers advocate the use of gender neutraliz-
ing word forms (undifferentiated feminine or masculine
nouns; e.g., Geschäftsleute, business people) rather than
pair forms (Duden, 2006; Hellinger & Bierbach, 1993)
since pair forms might increase the salience of gender as
a relevant category. As a consequence, their repeated use
could actually enhance – rather than attenuate – stereotyp-
ing and prejudices. However, it has been repeatedly shown
that these epicene forms trigger the same male bias as gen-
eric masculines (e.g., Heise, 2000; Irmen & Roßberg,
2004). For instance suffixes such as ‘‘fighter’’ or ‘‘officer’
(as in firefighter or police officer) can hardly be called gen-
der neutral, as fighter and officer are likely to trigger asso-
ciations with masculinity. Hence, if one’s purpose is to
counteract preexisting gender stereotypes, it might be far
better to highlight counter stereotypic instances through
gender-explicit pair forms rather than gender-neutral lan-
guage (Liben & Signorella, 1993, p. 148). Also, the find-
ings from our studies are inconsistent with the view that
pair form use activated gender stereotyping: If our interven-
tion (pair forms) had increased the salience of gender, girls
would have reported lower self-efficacy beliefs toward male
occupations. In fact, girls in our pair form condition
described their self-efficacy beliefs as stronger compared
to the girls in the generic masculine condition, suggesting
that our intervention triggered more gender balanced men-
tal representations and thus reduced gender stereotyping.
Our results showed that linguistic forms impacted chil-
dren’s perceptions of job accessibility and self-efficacy
beliefs irrespective of their first language being German
or Dutch. For some variables we observed differences
between the children from our two language groups which
seemed to reflect variations that were not in the main focus
of our study: For instance, variations in absolute income
levels between the two countries mirrored in the children’s
different earning estimates. However, the impact of the lin-
guistic intervention was the same for Dutch- and German-
Speaking children. Our set of experiments is the first in
demonstrating effects of a linguistic intervention in two lan-
guages which differ in the extent to which speakers are
grammatically forced to make gender references when
alluding to subjects or nouns (with German being a stronger
grammatical gender language than Dutch). This is espe-
cially interesting since it has been suggested that the stron-
ger a language’s grammatical gender, the more its speakers
rely on grammatical gender cues for making social infer-
ences (Gygax, Gabriel, Sarrasin, Garnham, & Oakhill,
2008) and the more likely they are to express sexist atti-
tudes (Wasserman & Weseley, 2009). Results from our
two experiments suggest that children from a strong gram-
matical gender language (i.e., German) and a moderate
grammatical gender language (i.e., Dutch) were equally
affected by the linguistic intervention: They both ascribed
higher accessibility to and reported higher levels of self-
efficacy toward stereotypically male occupations when they
were presented to them in pair forms, rather than in generic
masculine forms. It seems, in languages which employ
grammatical gender and thus have the linguistic devices
to explicitly refer to both genders, children’s gender-related
associations and beliefs about vocations can be influenced
through linguistic forms used to present occupational titles.
Limitations of Our Studies
The notion advanced in this article was that gender fair lan-
guage use influences childrens self-efficacy beliefs and
perceptions of accessibility regarding traditionally male
occupations. Although the results of this study provide valu-
able insights into effects of language use on vocational
development, some limitations must be acknowledged
when interpreting the results.
First, due to the arrangements with the participating
schools, we had to maintain existing class constellations
during the experiments which rendered the cross-class
assignment of children to control or experimental condi-
tions impossible. It cannot be ruled out that although in
the experiments described in Study 1 and Study 2 school
classes were randomly assigned to control or experimental
group, that, for instance, by pure luck some experimental
classes already had more gender balanced perceptions
about occupations from the start. Although we sampled
D. Vervecken & B. Hannover: Effects of Gender Fair Job Descriptions on Children 87
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2015 Hogrefe Publishing Social Psychology 2015; Vol. 46(2):76–92
several classes to reduce the likelihood of preexisting differ-
ences between the experimental and control groups and
applied a statistical procedure (i.e., standard error correc-
tion and multilevel analysis) to deal with the clustering of
the pupils, other procedures should be tested in the future
to replicate the present findings: A fully randomized assign-
ment of all children across classes to experimental or con-
trol condition would be ideal. Another alternative is to
collect data to detect preexisting differences between clas-
ses that might bias the outcome of the experiment (e.g.,
children’s gender-role beliefs). This would also allow for
testing for moderators.
Second, because of time constraints, no potential moder-
ators (besides biological sex and age of participants) were
measured. It is however conceivable that the impact of
gender fair language may be different for children with
egalitarian rather than traditional gender-role beliefs.
For instance in the research by Liben et al. (2002), it was
especially the children with traditionally gender-role beliefs
that perceived occupations in a stereotyped manner. Future
studies might want to further address this question.
And third, whereas the results of the present set of cross-
sectional experiments illustrate effects of gender fair lan-
guage shortly after it is presented, it is difficult to make
inferences about long-term effects. A recent review study
by Abad and Pruden (2013) suggests that gendered materi-
als – for instance, the gender fairness or unfairness of lan-
guage in school books (Moser & Hannover, 2014) influence
the development of gender stereotypes in children.
However, to our knowledge no studies ever tested the influ-
ence of repeated exposure to gender fair versus traditional
language. A full account of the impact of gender fair lan-
guage on children’s development of occupational gender
stereotypes and their subsequent educational and vocational
development could only be provided by longitudinal study
designs. For instance, some teachers could be trained in
using gender fair language, while the development of their
pupils’ gender-role beliefs and occupational aspirations
could be monitored over a longer time period and compared
to pupils of teachers who use traditional language. In a sim-
ilar design, textbooks using either gender fair or traditional
language could be randomly assigned to different school
classes. Again, the development of children’s gender-role
beliefs and their occupational aspirations could be moni-
tored and compared between experimental and control
group.
Fourth, according to the circumscription and compro-
mise theory (Gottfredson, 1981, 2002), children exclude
jobs which they perceive as out of reach in terms of pres-
tige/status, ability, and efforts required as possible career
choice. Although our research demonstrates that the lan-
guage used to present traditionally male occupations influ-
ences crucial factors of vocational development: Perceived
job accessibility and self-efficacy beliefs, other factors
(such as socioeconomic background, interest, intelligence)
must not be disregarded when trying to understand occupa-
tional choices. Also, future studies should not only look at
occupational self-efficacy beliefs but include measures of
occupational interests and behavioral intentions to pursue
different careers.
Conclusion
The results from our two experiments support the general
notion that gender in language influences people’s gendered
perceptions (e.g., Boroditsky, 2009; Deutscher, 2010).
Our results complement previous findings according to
which the use of pair forms (compared to generic mascu-
lines) strengthens the mental inclusion of women. Our stud-
ies add to this line of research by showing that the
‘feminization of stereotypically male occupations coin-
cides with perceptions of higher accessibility of these jobs,
while at the same time promoting children’s vocational
self-efficacy beliefs toward them. Compared to other inter-
ventions such as modeling successful workers in gender
atypical occupations (e.g., Bailey & Nihlen, 1990; Miller,
1986) and explicit career education (Barclay, 1974), the
use of pair forms is something which can be done on a daily
basis by, for instance, primary school teachers. Future
research may want to investigatewhether other interventions
to inform children that also women can do traditionally male
jobs (e.g., pictorially by showing images of both female and
male jobholders, or verbally by explicitly stating that women
can do the job too) have a similar effect on childrens percep-
tions of job accessibility and self-efficacy beliefs. Because of
this ease and the large scale with which our linguistic inter-
vention (the use of pair forms to present traditionally male
occupations) could be implemented in the educational
landscape, our current findings seem especially promising
in promoting children’s confidence in their academic and
professional abilities regarding stereotypically male
domains. This is especially so because our set of experiments
suggests thatthese effects occur regardless of primary school
children’s gender, age, or language background.
Given that most languages employ grammatical gender,
and have the linguistic devices to explicitly state both gen-
ders of jobholders (see Prewitt-Freilino et al., 2012), a lan-
guage reform in the respective countries could contribute to
reducing the skill shortage in traditionally male occupations
in the long term, as it empowers young children to believe:
‘YES I CAN!’’ We find this line of research extremely
exciting and hope that future research will further advance
our understanding of the impact of gender fair language on
vocational development.
Acknowledgments
The present research has been conducted within the Marie
Curie Initial Training Network Language, Cognition, and
Gender, ITN LCG, funded by the European Community’s
Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under
Grant Agreement No. 237907 (http://www.itn-lcg.eu). Dries
Vervecken is now at the Karel Grote University College,
Antwerpen, Belgium.
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Received December 20, 2013
Revision received October 23, 2014
Accepted October 27, 2014
Published online March 11, 2015
Dries Vervecken
Karel de Grote University College
Brusselstraat 45
2018 Antwerpen
Belgium
E-mail Dries.vervecken@kdg.be
D. Vervecken & B. Hannover: Effects of Gender Fair Job Descriptions on Children 91
Author’s personal copy (e-offprint)
2015 Hogrefe Publishing Social Psychology 2015; Vol. 46(2):76–92
Appendix
Occupational titles (pair forms in parenthesis) used in Experiments 1 and 2
German Dutch English translation
Stereotypically male: Astronauten (und
Astronautinnen)
Astronauten (en astronautes) (Male and female) astronauts
Lastwagenfahrer (und
Lastwagenfahrerinnen)
Vrachtwagenchauffeurs (en
vrachtwagenchauffeuses)
(Male and female) truck
drivers
Geschäftsmänner (und
Geschäftsfrauen)
Zakemannen (en
zakenvrouwen)
Businessmen (and
businesswomen)
Erfinder (und Erf inderinnen) Uitvinders (en uitvindsters) (Male and female) inventors
Bürgermeister (und
Bürgermeisterinnen)
Burgemeesters (en
burgemeesteressen)
(Male and female) mayors
Maurer (und Maurerinnen) Metselaars (en metselaarsters) (Male and female) bricklayers
Feuerwehrmänner (und
Feuerwehrfrauen)
Brandweermannen (en
brandweervrouwen)
Firemen (and firewomen)
Automechaniker (und
Automechanikerinnen)
Automonteerders (en
automonteersters)
(Male and female) car
mechanics
Stereotypically female: Blumenverkäufer (und
Blumenverkäuferinnen)
Bloemenverkopers (en
bloemenverkoopsters)
(Male and female) flower
sellers
Babysitter (und
Babysitterinnen)
Kinderoppassers en
kinderoppasseressen
(Male and female) babysitters
Zahnartzhelfer (und
Zahnartzhelferinnen)
Tandartsassistenten (en
tandartsassistentes)
(Male and female) dental
assistants
Raumpfleger (und
Raumpflegerinnen)
Schoonmakers (en
schoonmaaksters)
(Male and female) cleaners
Kosmetiker (und
Kosmetikerinnen)
Schoonheidsspecialisten (en
schoonheidsspecialistes)
(Male and female) beauticians
Stereotypically gender Sänger (und Sängerinnen) Zangers (en zangeressen) (Male and female) singers
neutral: Sportler (und Sportlerinnen) Sporters (en sportsters) (Male and female) athletes
Schriftsteller (und
Schriftstellerinnen)
Schrijvers (en schrijfsters) (Male and female) writers
92 D. Vervecken & B. Hannover: Effects of Gender Fair Job Descriptions on Children
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Social Psychology 2015; Vol. 46(2):76–92 2015 Hogrefe Publishing
... Unlike masculine-only forms, gender-fair language has several desirable effects: Stereotypical thinking is decreased (Kollmayer et al., 2018); women are perceived as more suitable for typically male occupations and are considered more likely to succeed in these jobs (Horvath & Sczesny, 2015;Vervecken et al., 2015;Vervecken et al., 2013); women show more interest, commitment, and self-efficacy for typically male occupations (e.g., Bem & Bem, 1973;Metaxa-Kakavouli et al., 2018;Stout & Dasgupta, 2011;Vervecken & Hannover, 2015). Both theoretically oriented work and empirical studies thus show that there are good reasons for using gender-fair language. ...
... Unlike masculine-only forms, gender-fair language has several desirable effects: Stereotypical thinking is decreased (Kollmayer et al., 2018); women are perceived as more suitable for typically male occupations and are considered more likely to succeed in these jobs (Horvath & Sczesny, 2015;Vervecken et al., 2015;Vervecken et al., 2013); women show more interest, commitment, and self-efficacy for typically male occupations (e.g., Bem & Bem, 1973;Metaxa-Kakavouli et al., 2018;Stout & Dasgupta, 2011;Vervecken & Hannover, 2015). Both theoretically oriented work and empirical studies thus show that there are good reasons for using gender-fair language. ...
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Gender-fair language makes women and other genders, their interests, and their achievements more visible and is particularly relevant to grammatical gender languages such as German, in which most nouns and personal pronouns are assigned to a specific gender. The present study tested the often repeated critical claims that gender-fair language impairs the comprehensibility and aesthetic appeal of videos. In an experiment with N = 105 students, participants watched a video on self-determination theory, either with masculine-only forms or using the glottal stop, a form of spoken gender-fair language that inserts an abrupt and sustained closure of the vocal cords in the larynx between the masculine form or the stem and the feminine ending of words (e.g. in German “Leserʔinnen”, ∼feʔmale readers). Subsequently, participants completed a questionnaire regarding the video's comprehensibility. The results show no statistically significant impairment regarding the general subjective comprehensibility (partial η ² < .01), the ease of ascribing meaning to the words (partial η ² < .01), the ease of decoding the syntax of the sentences (partial η ² = .03), or the aesthetic appeal of the videos (partial η ² = .02). The critics’ claims are therefore questioned.
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Es gibt ein Argument, das in keiner Diskussion über das Gendern fehlt: Behauptet wird, dass Menschen vorrangig an Männer denken, wenn sie Formulierungen im generischen Maskulinum lesen/hören. Empirische Untersuchungen hätten zweifelsfrei erbracht, dass generische Maskulina überwiegend „innere Bilder“ von männlichen Akteuren erzeugten (Braun et al., 2005; Heise, 2000; Irmen & Köhncke, 1996; Irmen & Linner, 2005; Irmen & Roßberg, 2004; Klein, 1988; Rothermund, 1998; Rummler, 1995; Scheele & Gauler, 1993). Die Studien sollen belegen, dass das generische Maskulinum de facto nicht generisch verstanden wird, sondern zu einem male bias führt – einer Dominanz von Männern in der Vorstellungswelt der Rezipienten.
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This article presents results from two complementary experiments that examine the effects of a potential obstacle to female leadership: gendered language in the form of masculine leadership titles. In the first experiment (N = 1753), we utilize an unobtrusive writing task to find that a masculine title (“Chairman” vs. “Chair”) increases assumptions that a hypothetical leader is a man, even when the leader’s gender is left unspecified. In the second experiment (N = 1000), we use a surprise recall task and a treatment that unambiguously communicates the leader’s gender to find that a masculine title increases the accuracy of leader recollection only when the leader is a man. In both studies, we find no significant differences by gender of respondents in the effects of masculine language on reinforcing the link between masculinity and leadership. Thus, implicitly sexist language as codified in masculine titles can reinforce stereotypes that tie masculinity to leadership and consequently, weaken the connection between women and leadership.
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