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Young People’s Job Perceptions and Preferences


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This report examines possible causes of gender segregation and its link to skills shortages in the UK labour market, by investigating young people’s perceptions about work and their preferences for jobs. In particular, the aim is to identify ways of ensuring that young people’s occupational choices are not determined by their gender or stereotypical views about whether females or males can do particular jobs. (i.e. only women can become nursery nurses and only men can become plumbers). Interviews, document analysis, surveys and an intervention were used to collect evidence from young people aged 14 to 19 years. The research focused on particular areas of work - nursery nursing/child-care, elderly care assistants, hairdressing, travel agency, plumbing, mechanics, building and carpentry, being a chef, and telesales, as well as jobs which young people identified as being of interest to them.
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Young People’s Job Perceptions and Preferences
Lynne Millward, Diane Houston, Dora Brown and Martyn Barrett
Department of Psychology
School of Human Sciences
University of Surrey
Executive Summary 8
Chapter 1: Introduction 11
Chapter 2: Analysing the Skill Shortage Problem Through Job 18
Perceptions and preferences
Chapter 3: Job Perceptions and Realities 45
Chapter 4: Overview of Findings and Implications for Policy 82
References 88
Appendix 1: Technical Report on Document Analysis 94
Appendix 2 : The Jobs adolescents Say They Would Like to Do 100
Appendix 3 : Intervention Exercises 103
Appendix 4 : Technical Details of Intervention Experiment 107
Appendix 5 : Technical Details of College Interventions 116
Appendix 6 : Technical Details of Gender Study 125
Appendix 7 : Attribute Ratings 133
Appendix 8 : Insider and Outsider Perspectives 157
List of Tables
Table 1. How young people organise the features of their most likely job.
Table 2. How young people organise the features of their ideal job.
Table 3. A comparison of what boys and girls say are their ideal job features.
Table 4. Reasons offered by young people for not pursuing previously considered jobs.
Table 5. Reasons why young people say they will end up doing a certain job.
Table 6. What young people say that a nursery nurse does.
Table 7. Young people’s perceptions of the key features of nursery nursing.
Table 8. What young people say that a hairdresser does.
Table 9. Young people’s perceptions of the key features of hairdressing.
Table 10. What young people say that a plumber does.
Table 11. Young people’s perceptions of the key features of plumbing.
Table 12. What young people say that a car mechanic does.
Table 13. Young people’s perceptions of the key features of car mechanics.
Table 14. Extent of agreement among young people on the key features of male-dominated jobs.
Table 15. Extent of agreement among young people on the key features of female-dominated jobs.
Table 16. Examples of Discrepancy between Insider and Outsider Perceptions of Male Dominated jobs.
Table 17. Examples of Discrepancy between Insider and Outsider Perceptions of Female Dominated jobs.
Table 18. Young people’s pay evaluations of vocational jobs.
Table 19 Information used by young people in making their job decisions.
Table 20. College students - Perceived Helpfulness of advice in making course decisions.
Table 21. Factors young people say influences their ultimate job decision.
Table 22. Percentage of college students recognising particular factors as helpful in their choice of course.
Table 23. Factors young people describe as prompting a revision of job intentions.
List of Boxes
1 Prototype Advertisement – Nursery Nurse
2 Prototype Advertisement - Plumber
List of Figures
Figure 1. Young peoples perceptions of how males and females are distributed across jobs in skill
shortage areas.
Figure 2. Young peoples preference ratings of male-dominated jobs.
Figure 3. Young peoples preference ratings of female-dominated jobs.
Figure 4. Young peoples attitudes to further education and training.
Figure 5. How young people picture their most likely job.
Figure 6. How young people picture their ideal job.
Figure 7. The Importance of Pay to College Students.
Figure 8. Shifts in Job Preferences from before to after a classroom based intervention: Female-
Dominated Jobs.
Figure 9. Shifts in Job Preferences from before to after a classroom based intervention: Male-
Dominated Jobs.
Figure 10. Sources of Advice mentioned in interviews and their perceived usefulness.
Figure 11. Survey of the perceived usefulness of different sources of career advice.
Figure 12. Percentage of young people who report formal work experience across different
age groups.
With sincere thanks to all the 14 to 16 year olds who gave up their time to be interviewed on a one-to-one basis, and to
all 13 to 19 year olds we surveyed from the following state secondary schools and FE colleges. Grateful thanks to all key
liaison personnel and head teachers at each of the participating institutions for their interest in and cooperation with
the research reported here.
Garforth Community College
Ratton School
Broadwater School
Oakfarm Community School
Howard of Effingham
Glyn TC
St Theresa’s
Wigan and Leigh
Accrington and Rosse
East Surrey
South Thames
Milton Keynes
With special thanks also to Toby Fallon and Clair Thurgood for their work on the intervention experiment, to Christine
Larkin for her work on the gender study, and to Lisa Atkinson for securing access to one of the key participating
schools and in particular for her work on the college leavers study. Thanks also to Elham Binae-Faal for her help with
interviews. The research team would like to thank Maria Cody, Nick Scott and Sally Millward at the DTI for their
guidance and assistance.
The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the
Department, or any individual or body associated with this research.
Executive Summary
Aims and Objectives
This report examines possible causes of gender segregation and its link to skills shortages in the UK labour market, by
investigating young people’s perceptions about work and their preferences for jobs. In particular, the aim is to identify
ways of ensuring that young people’s occupational choices are not determined by their gender or stereotypical views
about whether females or males can do particular jobs. (i.e. only women can become nursery nurses and only men can
become plumbers).
Interviews, document analysis, surveys and an intervention were used to collect evidence from young people aged 14 to
19 years. The research focused on particular areas of work - nursery nursing/child-care, elderly care assistants,
hairdressing, travel agency, plumbing, mechanics, building and carpentry, being a chef, and telesales, as well as jobs
which young people identified as being of interest to them.
The UK is currently experiencing skills shortages in a number of skilled trades such as plumbing, engineering,
construction and in care work of all kinds. This has been attributed to a major demographic shift in UK society
combined with an increase in the range of work in service-oriented and information-based jobs, driven by consumerism
and advances in IT. Many of the areas of work that have skills shortages are also very segregated by gender. In the UK,
the proportion of men to women in child-care is 1 to 300 whilst in plumbing, the proportion of women to men amounts
to around 1 in 200.
Key Findings
Young people hold very strong stereotypes about the types of jobs that are appropriate for men and women. These
gender stereotypes pose barriers to stop young people going into non-traditional work. This is because young people
as the basis for actively selecting themselves into or screening themselves out of the market for certain jobs.
Job adverts and college prospectuses may perpetuate gender segregation in the implicit gender messages they
Although the research found some convergence in what boys and girls say they actually want from their work, boys
were still more inclined than girls to value a “high pay potential” whilst girls are more oriented to job conditions
(especially the opportunity to combine work with having children) as well as the more
aspects of jobs, such as
being able to “make a difference”. Overall boys ranked pay potential as their most important job attribute whilst for
girls, pay ranked 11th in the list. For girls the opportunity to combine work with having children was at the top of the list
of their priorities.
Young people know very little about the details of work in particular jobs and about the kind of pay and lifestyle that
different jobs offer. Boys in particular have very basic perceptions of work that is traditionally done by women. Both
boys and girls were aware that male dominated work was better paid than female dominated work, but young people’s
pay estimates for all kinds or work were very variable and not well related to actual rates of pay.
Personal experience
is clearly the primary source of all job knowledge derived either
(through work
shadowing/observation or actual work experiences) or
(through talking to family or friends actually in the
job). Young people also appeared to rely very heavily on their own ‘personal instincts’ as to what is right for them or
not. College students in particular, were most reliant on personal instincts (e.g. personal interest in skills acquired in
their course, previous practical experience) over for example course length or college location.
Overall the young people in the research said parental advice is the most frequently sought and useful of sources for
making job, career and course decisions than advice obtained from friends and teachers. Formal advice from career
talks and services, college open days and prospectuses were judged the least sought after. Girls appear to be more
open to the use and influence of sources beyond parents including teachers, friends and formal career services
consistent with their more social and relationship oriented approach to life generally. The fact boys rely on
parental/family sources for their choice of course or career could be due to a more “approval oriented approach” to
decision making or simply because they have an anti-school tendency.
Formal sources such as the internet, leaflets, careers talks, do not feature much in young people’s reports of what
sources of information or advice have been of most use to them in their occupational decision making. Of the formal
sources of advice,
college open days
were rated as the most helpful. Overall, findings also highlight the relative
insignificance of formal career services including and most notably, Connexions, as a form of contact and source of
career advice/guidance.
Only 4% of the 120 students interviewed mentioned interviews with Connexions as a useful source of career
guidance/advice. Only about a quarter of the 2,447 young people surveyed said that the information they received
about careers from a Connexions advisor was useful in making a decision about a particular course or career. In
addition only half of these said that this contact was useful and only a quarter of these said that it had made any
difference to their vocational decision.
Only 20% of the students surveyed had been able to take part in work experience placements organised through school
and a third of these said that the placement had not been in the area of work that they had asked for.
The research also involved class-based exercises in which young people worked with concrete information about the
pay and lifestyles that different jobs would provide. When given this information they are more likely to consider jobs
which are not traditionally done by their own sex. Girls were especially likely to change their views about male jobs in
response to information relating to work-life balance, such as hours of work and potential flexibility. Job preferences
were however also influenced by whether the young person had confidence in his or her ability to do that job.
An in-depth study of students that had selected but then left non-traditional NVQ courses showed that they did so
because they had not felt supported sufficiently as an ‘atypical’ student during their training. Girls undertaking for
example, plumbing course, and men undertaking, for example, childcare courses, need to feel that there is support for
them as potentially the only man or women on the course in order to be motivated to complete the course.
The power of gender stereotypes and identities to dictate occupational perception, preferences and decisions is
undeniable. However what boys and girls say they want from their jobs is more similar than different and if young
people have more information about the details of work, pay and lifestyles they are less concerned by gender
stereotypes. It therefore seems likely that gender segregation can be reduced by engaging young people with
information, advice and guidance which focuses on the realities of job tasks, pay and lifestyle. Therefore, there needs
to be a better way of signalling to young people the benefits of particular career choices.
Encouraging more young people to take non-traditional routes in their working lives will eventually breakdown
gender segregation because the stereotypes about gender will change.
Changing the way jobs are represented in the media will create role models and change associations about work
and gender.
Colleges should provide appropriate support to young people who train for jobs which are not traditionally done by
their gender– i.e. girls doing mechanics, plumbing, building; boys doing child-care, hairdressing. Support should be
explicit, acknowledging gender differences and working with them.
‘Holistic careers guidance including time set aside within the school timetable to facilitate a much more proactive
approach to informing young people about work. This could be done in school through class-based practical
exercises and project work to increase young people’s understanding of the realities of job tasks, pay and the
lifestyle that different pay levels provide.
Good quality work placements could play an important role if they were adequately organised and funded to a level
where they were able to give young people meaningful work experience in their areas of interest.
Parents play a key role in the process of occupational choice and so they need to be provided with better
information and support in order to enable them to help their children make the best possible choices for their
Information, advice and guidance to young people should include details about the pay, the work-life balance and
lifestyles associated with different kinds of jobs
1. Introduction
Aims and Objectives
The aim of this report is to examine some of the possible causes of gender segregation and their impact on skills
shortages in the UK labour market. This aim takes account of the longer-term challenge of changing gender
stereotypes that may pose constraints on the vocational pathways and lifestyle choices taken by young men and
In particular, the report attempts to identify ways of ensuring that young people’s occupational choices are not
determined by gender or stereotypes about gender. To this end, we examined the job perceptions and preferences of
young people aged 14 to 19 years at the interface between education and training and the world of work.
The research was guided by the following objectives:
Objective 1
To understand 14-19 year olds’ job perceptions and evaluations across selected male-dominated and female-dominated
skill-shortage areas, identifying in particular the role played by gender in explaining these perceptions and evaluations.
Objective 2
To map 14-19 year olds’ job preferences, interests, values, intentions, and decisions, exploring in particular the role
played by:
1. Gender
2. Job Adverts and College Prospectuses
3. Parents
4. Schools,
5. Guidance Specialists and
6. Colleges
Objective 3
To investigate how understanding of pay levels, and the lifestyles associated with these, might influence young people’s
assessments of different types of job.
Objective 4
To investigate why students who take vocational training courses that are not traditionally studied by their own sex,
change their minds and decide to leave.
Objective 5
To produce practical recommendations for addressing gender segregation and lessening their impact on skills
shortage in the UK.
Economic and Social Context
It is well established that the UK faces skills deficits particularly in vocational areas like childcare, elderly care,,
plumbing, engineering and construction (Miller, Neathey, Pollard, Hill & Ritchie, 2005). This has been attributed to a
major demographic shift in UK society, caused by an increasingly aging population and declining fertility, combined with
an increase in the range of jobs afforded by a change in the nature of work (i.e. service-oriented, information-based)
driven by consumerism and advances in IT (Ackerman, Goodwin, Dougherty & Gallagher, 1998). One interesting aspect
to the skills deficit is that gender segregation is particularly strong in areas of work which are experiencing skill
shortages (Miller, Neathey, Pollard & Hill, 2004).
The UK job market remains heavily segregated by gender (DfES, 2003). In the UK, the proportion of men to women in
child-care is 1 to 300 whilst in plumbing, the proportion of women to men amounts to around 1 in 200 (Office for
National Statistics, 2003). Gender segregation in work is not limited to the UK; a similar pattern has been reported
throughout all EU member states (Rubery & Fagan, 1995; Thewlis, Miller, & Neathey, 2004).
Gender segregation is also at the root of other major socio-economic problems, not least a continued gender gap in
earnings (Ashe, 2005). Whilst the Equal Pay Act (1970) creates a legislative imperative on employers to treat men and
women equitably ‘in the same job’, this does not account for the fact that traditionally female-dominated vocations tend
to be lower paid (and lower status) than the male-dominated jobs. According to the recent ASHE (2005) figures,
women working full-time earn, on average 13% less than men working full-time. For part-time work the gap is much
larger, women who work part-time earn 41% less per hour than men working full-time. This is starkly illustrated by
average earnings in the child-care sector amounting to £12,211, almost half the £23,751 average for plumbing
occupations (ONS, 2003).
The EOC maintains that Modern Apprenticeship (MA) Schemes should be a key focus for challenging gender segregation
as many MA schemes unwittingly reinforce gender stereotypes by recruiting students who fit traditional profiles.
However, this can be attributed in part to
practices by employers (on whom MA schemes depend) and in
part due to self-selection processes (i.e. only traditional applicants may apply) (Miller, Neathey, Pollard, Hill & Ritchie,
2005). Preoccupied with completion rates, employers are more likely to invest in the ‘typical’ than the ‘atypical’
candidate as a relatively unknown quantity. Some employers also appear to hold a persisting misperception that women
make unreliable trainees due to their reproductive roles (Fuegen, Biernat, Haines, & Deaux, 2004). Boys on the other
hand may not be recruited into jobs like childcare because of the tendency of childcare ‘purchasers’ to attribute
suspect motivations to men who want to work with children (e.g. assumptions of paedophilia)(Cameron, Moss & Owen,
1999). The EOC suggests that for MA schemes to be levers of change, they would need work in close partnership with
employers to actively attract, recruit and support the atypical student.
Gender segregation and Occupational Preferences
Some of the gender segregation in today’s labour market may still be accounted for by discrimination, but it is also
perpetuated through young people’s perceptions that certain jobs are more or less appropriate for them depending on
whether they are male or female.
Gender segregation in fact continues to be one of the strongest influences on young
people’s occupational choices, over and above actual ability (Miller, Neathey, Pollard, & Hill, 2004).
Miller, et al 2004) asked children aged 7 to 11 whether certain jobs were thought to be more suitable for women, men,
or equally suited to both sexes. Many jobs were seen in a gender-stereotypical way by both boys and girls. Miller and
Budd (1999) also found that individuals’ preferences remained largely restricted to those jobs that were viewed as in
keeping with stereotypes about jobs appropriate for their own sex.
Miller, Neathey, Pollard, Hill and Ritchie (2005) identify major perceptual and attitudinal barriers to the pursuit of
atypical training not only among young people themselves but also among those who guide them in a vocational setting.
Young people in the main, demonstrate a lack of basic interest in acquiring the knowledge or skills required by atypical
jobs whilst Connexions do not see it as part of their vocational remit to challenge this, and have been reported to
demonstrate a degree of moral reluctance to do so (see also Miller, Neathey, Pollard, & Hill, 2004).
Bandura, Barbaranelli, Caprara & Pastorelli (2001) argued that women’s career interests are restricted because they
believe they are not capable of undertaking traditional, stereotypically male occupations, even if encouraged by parents
or teachers to either broaden or heighten their academic aspirations. The key to self-efficacy is a belief in one’s
capability to achieve or master something (Feehan & Johnston, 1999; Vrugt, 1996). Thus, young people grow up believing
that they are capable of some jobs but not others. Bandura and colleagues (2001) found that efficacy beliefs are strong
predictors of occupational choice. Both boys and girls with higher academic and occupational self-belief considered a
wider range of career options.
However, Nevill and Schlecker (1988) found that whilst girls with greater levels of self-efficacy were more willing to
non-traditional career-paths
than those with lower levels, they still preferred traditionally female occupations
over non-traditional roles regardless. McCracken and Weitzman (1997) pointed out that the career aspirations of young
women began to converge with those of young men during the 1990s and Marini et al. (1996) likewise reported a closing
of the gender gap in value placed on rewards such as pay and prestige. However, importantly, Johnson & Mortimer
(2000) later found that despite valuing extrinsic rewards highly, young women in their study still placed a greater value
on intrinsic, altruistic and social rewards.
Another consideration is that young girls may become more aware than boys of the need to consider the possibility of
running a home and family alongside their job (Curry & McEwen, 1989). Such awareness may limit them to consider
traditionally feminine jobs that can be done part-time or which they think can be easily reconciled with family life. It
may simply be the case that traditional gender socialization and perceived or actual sexism limit the types of
occupations young women perceive as being available to them (Swanson & Woike, 1997). However, inaccurate or
insufficient information about jobs in general, may perpetuate the idea that only certain jobs are suited to them. In
research on recruitment and selection processes, the opportunity to preview the job through first-hand experience
results in more realistic perceptions of the job (Gardner, Foo & Hesketh, 1995). This in turn can facilitate a more faithful
process of ‘matching’ self to job with the potential to break down stereotypes of what the job can offer (Vandenberg &
Scarpello, 1990).
Young women may vary in their aspirations for work and family. Hakim (2002) describes ‘work-centred’, ‘adaptive’ and
‘home-centred’ work orientations amongst women. Work-centred women are said to be more confident about non-
traditional masculine-style careers, and be less concerned with future family commitments thus enabling continuation
of a vocational course. Adaptive and home-centred women would be less likely to follow a non-traditional career path
due to their consideration of how they will reconcile work with possible caring commitments. Work-centred women may
be more influenced by job status. Since far fewer female-dominated occupations than male-dominated occupations
have high status, young women who seek high status have little choice other than to look outside traditional
occupations (Miller & Hayward, 2002).
A particular difficulty also lies in persuading men to consider traditionally feminine areas of work. It is well established
that girls are much more liberal than boys in their occupational contemplations (Miller & Budd, 1999) with boys far less
likely to consider atypical work than girls (Morris, Nelson, Rickinson, Shoney & Benefield, 1999). For men, salary and
status may be an additional factor that compounds gender segregation issues (Cameron, Moss & Owen, 1999). However
the extent to which different types of rewards, both intrinsic (e.g. what might be especially satisfying about a particular
job), and extrinsic, (e.g. pay, conditions) are associated with so-called male-dominated or female-dominated jobs is
largely unknown. While there is extensive literature on women undertaking what could be seen as “men’s work” (‘token
women’) (e.g. Ely, 1994) there is relatively little research on men who perform what could be seen as ‘women’s work’
(Cameron, Moss & Owen, 1999).
The tendency to overlook issues concerning men in female roles may reflect gender studies’ predominant focus on
women and the absence, until recently, of consideration of issues concerning men and masculinity from mainstream
academic research. The lack of literature on men in non-traditional occupations means that little is known about the
motivations and experiences of men in ‘female-dominated’ occupations and how men may manage any potential conflict
between the ‘feminine’ nature of the job and their gender identity.
To summarise, gender segregation may not arise through discriminatory practices but also and perhaps more
fundamentally, through the choices made by young people in their perceptions of what kinds of work they are most
suited to. Men and women do prefer jobs in keeping with their gender and for women in particular this may in part arise
from deep seated concerns about their capability to master ‘male’ jobs. Aside from this, men and women may
nonetheless find themselves attracted to jobs not in keeping with their gender because of a perceived alignment with
their own fundamental interests and life-orientations. It is through these
perceptions of jobs
that we can seek to
understand occupational preferences and decisions.
Here, we therefore look in detail, not only at young people’s occupational preferences but also at perceptions of jobs in
skill shortage areas, including factors such as the type of work involved, who typically does the job and why, and what
these jobs offer in terms of income and lifestyle. We maintain that it is not enough to argue that skill shortages are
explained in part by gender, we need to know exactly why and how this comes about from young people’s point of view.
We focus particularly on the preferences and perceptions of 13 to 16 year olds because they are on the bridge between
education and the world of work. This may help us to identify leverage for intervention. By looking specifically at job
perceptions and linking these perceptions to vocational choice, we can pay close attention to the ways in which gender
can influence the decisions made by young people.
Method of Investigation
Six studies were conducted: document analysis, in-depth, school based 14-16 interviews (n=120), school survey
(n=2,447), school intervention evaluation (n=284), college survey (n=537) and 16-19 college interviews (n= 17).
Document Analysis
This study examined the content of job advertisements and college prospectus course descriptions in male-dominated
(plumbing, mechanics) and female-dominated (nursery nursing, hairdressing) jobs. It is assumed that once a young
person has reached the stage of considering a job advertisement or a college course description, he or she will have
made an initial decision regarding occupational choice. The content of job advertisements and/or course descriptions
may nonetheless have the potential to attract or deter the reader from continuing with a chosen path. A selection of job
advertisements were examined from the national press, trade magazines and online job search engines, as well as
course descriptions from a variety of college prospectuses (paper format as well as online) from across England
Technical details in Appendix 1)
14-16 Interviews
A series of one-to-one interviews with 120, 14 to 16 year olds were conducted. All students expressed an intention to
progress their post-16 education through the NVQ route or equivalent. They were recruited from across four large
vocationally-oriented secondary schools in the South East of England.
The purpose of the interviews was to invite open-ended reflection on job perceptions, job preferences, personal job
decisions and the influences taken into account in making these decisions. In particular the aim was to find out what
young people of this age group know about certain jobs, what they think about these jobs and where they obtained their
information. Interviews were conducted with pupils during morning registration periods and lasted up to 30 minutes
each. Job intentions are described in
Appendix 2
. Each student was presented with three jobs: one male-dominated
(either plumber or car mechanic), one female-dominated (either nursery nurse or hairdresser) and one neutral job
(either chef or telesales) requiring similar level vocational qualifications. Many jobs were in areas of skill shortage. The
interviews were highly structured but with scope for open ended exploration through probing or clarification as
required. The interviews (
Appendix 3 for Interview Schedules
) began with personal reflections, moving on to consider in
detail the jobs of interest to the study before ending with some more personal reflections.
School Survey
2,447 mixed ability students took part in the survey, (1,229 boys; 1,149 girls) recruited from years 9, 10 and 11 (aged 13-
16 years) from 14 state sector secondary schools across a broad geographical spread within England (North East,
South East, Midlands, South West). The majority were British-White (87.8%). Students were studying for an average of
10 GCSE’s with a range of 1 to 14. The survey examined job preferences and perceptions in a variety of ways.
Respondents were asked to evaluate and describe their ideal job as well as the job they felt they were most likely to do.
They were also asked to evaluate jobs across four male-dominated skill shortage areas (plumber, mechanic, builder,
carpenter), and four female-dominated areas (nursery nursing, care assistant, travel agent, hairdresser).
School Intervention Evaluation
A simple classroom based exercise was developed which involved working with information about
the average
the job conditions (working arrangements and schedules) of key jobs. The intervention was implemented in two
state senior schools (
Appendix 3 and 4)
. The purpose was to examine whether these exercises would influence student
job evaluations compared six weeks before and then immediately after the intervention. 284 mixed-ability students (112
girls, 172 boys) were recruited to this field experiment from years 9 (aged 13-14 years), 10 (aged 14-15 years) and 11
(aged 15-16 years).
College Survey
The college sample comprised 537 NVQ students in years 2 or 3 of their training course, of which 245 were male and
458 were female. Students were sampled from 13 vocational colleges across England (North East, South East, Midlands
and South West). Students were aged between 16 and 19 years (mean age 17). The NVQ courses targeted for
participation were plumbing (n=31), carpentry (n=43), nursery nursing (n=79), elderly or social care (n=73),
construction (n=80), hairdressing (n=102), travel (n=68) and mechanics (n=57). All nursery nurses and care assistants
were female, whilst all plumbers, mechanics and carpenters were male. There were 3 females among the 80
construction students (86% male), 2 males among the 102 hairdressing students (98% female), and 9 males and 58
female travel agents (87% female).
The college survey matched the school survey in all aspects, other than where questions were adapted to investigate
reasons behind choice of vocational course and to examine whether course expectations are fulfilled. As for the school
survey, students described designated jobs across a set of attributes. They described jobs across four male-dominated
skill shortage areas (plumber, mechanic, builder, carpenter), and four female-dominated areas (nursery nursing, care
assistant, travel agent, hairdresser).
16-19 College Interviews
The aim of this study was to explore the experiences of college students (aged 16 to 19 years) who had taken courses
that are not traditionally taken by their sex and had decided to leave. Interviews were conducted with 17 (7 male and 10
female) leavers of vocational (NVQ) courses inviting them to reflect openly in particular on their reasons for leaving in
the context of what in hindsight might have prevented them from leaving. The only structure imposed on interviews was
focusing it on reasons for leaving. Technical Details are provided in
Appendix 5
2 Analysing the Skill Shortage Problem through Job
Perceptions and Preferences
Our analysis will have five parts. Firstly we look at how job stereotypes have become associated with gender
stereotypes as a major barrier to the entry of new recruits. Secondly, we look at the way young people
use gender
as the basis for selecting or rejecting jobs as suited to themselves. Thirdly we see how job adverts and
college prospectuses contain traditional gender messages that perpetuate gender segregation. Fourthly, we investigate
formally the extent to which gender can dictate job choices over and above the status of jobs and personal interests.
Finally, given the all-pervading impact of gender on occupational choice, we investigate in detail both differences and
similarities in occupational preferences and decisions.
Job Stereotypes as Gender Stereotypes
There is a wealth of research now demonstrating strong links between job perceptions and gender stereotypes. Gender
stereotypes are a set of specific beliefs about the characteristics that women and men are likely to possess.
Characteristics associated with women emphasise the importance of relationships and a sociable approach to life (e.g.
cooperative, team-oriented, sociable, relationship oriented) as well as an expressive nature (e.g. caring, sensitive,
gentle) (Bem, 1981; Spence, 1980). Male traits on the other hand emphasise an individualistic and instrumental
approach to life (e.g. energetic, individualistic, proactive, dominant, means-end oriented, assertive, strong). These
female and male characteristics are most popularly known as ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ traits respectively.
Research has found that people think that success in certain occupations requires characteristics stereotypical of a
particular sex (e.g. Eagly, 1983; Silverstone & Towler, 1986). Thus, success in male-dominated managerial occupations
is explained using stereotypically male traits like assertive, instrumental, task-oriented (Schein, 1975; Brenner,
Tomkiewicz, & Schein, 1989; Ryan & Haslam, 2005) and women in managerial roles are rated higher on ‘masculine’
traits than other women and also men in non-managerial positions (Ledet & Henley, 2000). This finding applies to a
range of sex-dominated occupations (see Bond & McQaid, 2004 for review). The general finding seems to be that
gender stereotypes lead people to believe that certain occupations (e.g. nurse, secretary) are “female” occupations,
requiring expressive traits and others (e.g. mechanic, engineer, builder) are “male” occupations requiring
individualistic or instrumental traits (Gatton et al, 1999).
Some have argued that gender stereotypes become associated with certain jobs because of gender segregation (e.g.
Eagly, 1983). Thus, if girls account for the majority of child-care jobs, these jobs become ‘female’ jobs associated with a
female stereotype. However, in practice linking gender stereotypes with certain jobs is probably a combination of both
the nature of the work involved (which convey images of masculinity or femininity) and gender segregation.
Our findings confirm the perceived association between jobs and gender. In our interviews we asked students planning
to do a post-16 years NVQ qualification to give us their views on how men and women are distributed across six jobs, a
number with skill shortages (plumbing, mechanics, nursery nursing) and two without (telesales and chef). Strong
gender segregation emerged in perceptions (Figure 1). For example the chart shows that 100% of boys felt that all or
nearly all plumbers are men.
Figure 1. Young peoples perceptions of how males and females are distributed across jobs in skill shortage
girl boy girl boy girl boy girl boy girl boy girl boy
nurs er y
nurs e
hair d r ess er p lumb er mechani c chef t eles ales
all or mainly men
equal men/women
all or mainly women
Nursery Nursing
The majority of the sample (88%) described nursery nursing as either ‘all women’ or ‘mainly women’ (Figure 1). The
main explanation offered was either that ‘women are more suited to it’ (e.g. ‘female-focused job’, ‘female-job’, ‘children
and caring are women’s work’, ‘women can look after children better’, ‘needs maternal instinct’, ‘comes naturally to a
woman’) or that ‘men are not suited to it’ (e.g. ‘men are not tolerant’, ‘men don’t have a clue’, ‘not a manly job’, ‘men go
for bigger jobs’, ‘men wouldn’t be able to do it’, ‘funny for men to do it’). Those who saw the job as equally men and
women said that “both men and women can do the job” and that “everyone loves kids”.
The typical nursery nurse was mostly described as female (18%), young (7%), caring/gentle (7%), good with kids
(15%), patient/calm (15%), outgoing/friendly (7%), and kind/helpful (17%). Other less frequently mentioned attributes
were organised (2%), strict (5%), and fun (3%). More boys (31%) than girls (4%) described the typical nursery nurse
as ‘female’ and ‘patient/calm’, whilst girls were more likely to mention ‘kind/helpful’ and ‘outgoing/friendly’ (girls 37%;
boys 13%).
Reasons given for why a man will typically not want to do nursery nursing mentioned
(e.g. ‘not manly’, ‘girly
job content
(e.g. changing nappies, taking kids to the toilet, cleaning, responsibility) (50%) and
job conditions
(e.g. noise) (16%). Boys were more likely than girls to mention
as off-putting (boys 46%; girls 21%), whilst girls
were more likely than boys to mention job
as off-putting (changing nappies, responsibility) (girls 42%; boys
When asked to consider why a man might want to do nursery nursing, 74% replied along the lines of ‘because he
obviously enjoys working with kids’, 8% said ‘the same as women’, 7% ‘because he wants to learn more about kids’, 5%
‘because he’s dodgy’, 4% ‘because he is in touch with his feminine side’, and 2% ‘because he doesn’t care what people
think’. One girl offered a spontaneous comment that ‘men make good role models so there should be more in the job’.
Both boys and girls said that hairdressers are mostly women, though a good third described an equal proportion of
men and women (Figure 1). Explanations referred simply to the fact that the job is ‘feminine’ (66%) attracting only
atypical boys (e.g. ‘girly job’, ‘blokes would be thought of as being gay’, ‘women have got more skill for that kind of
thing’, ‘men accused of being gay’). Others (32%) – all male, noted on the contrary that there is nothing inherently
‘female’ about the ability to cut hair and in principle both could do it (e.g. ‘either can do it’, ‘anyone can do it’, ‘both
barbers and hairdressers exist’).
The typical hairdresser was described as ‘sociable’ (e.g. ‘gets on well with others’, ‘enjoys working with others’, ‘chatty’,
‘friendly’, ‘bubbly’, ‘talkative’, ‘outgoing’) by both boys and girls (49%). Other characteristics mentioned include
fashionable/trendy/stylish (12%), ‘girly girl’ (5%), young (3%), artistic (10%), gay (7%) and boring (7%).
Reasons offered for why a man would take up hairdressing include simply an interest in cutting/styling hair (e.g. ‘likes
cutting hair, ‘likes working with hair’, ‘likes creating hairstyles’, ‘likes being creative’) (67%). Less frequently mentioned
reasons were being ‘gay’ (7%), ‘working with people’ (5%), and ‘good pay’ (5%). One of the main off-putting factors for
men was said to be the ‘gay image’ (e.g. ‘branded gay’, ‘, ‘makes you look gay’, ‘girls taking the mick’). Some (24%) said
that ‘just dealing with people’s hair’ is itself off-putting. 3% said ‘working mainly with women’ (and all the ‘girly things
that go with it’) as most off-putting.
Not surprisingly, the majority of the sample (both boys and girls in equal proportions) said that either all men or mostly
men would be typical of plumbing (Figure 1). Explanations for this were either that plumbing is simply ‘a man’s job’ (e.g.
hard, physical work’, ‘dirty, heavy’, ‘lifting, need strength’, ‘heavy, active work’, ‘it’s a man’s job, you need muscle’)
(45%) or that women are not inclined to want to take up ‘dirty work’ of the kind foreseen in plumbing (e.g. ‘women don’t
like the work’, ‘women just don’t want to do it’, ‘women don’t like getting dirty’) (55%). Boy and girl explanations did not
When reflecting on the ‘typical plumber’, half the sample (50%) mentioned either ‘a man’ or the ‘macho’ nature of the
job as the core characteristic. Of this half, girls (68%) were more likely to mention this characteristic than boys
(36%). Other mentioned characteristics were ‘friendly/helpful’ (16%), ‘fat and lazy’ (11%), ‘wheeler-dealer’ (4%), ‘thick’
(4%), ‘middle-aged’ (2%), and ‘hard working/hands-on’ (2%).
Thinking about what might drive a woman to take up a ‘macho job’ like plumbing, the majority of both boys and girls said
that it would be because of a fundamental interest in the job (e.g. ‘likes being practical’, ‘likes fixing’, ‘likes manual
labour’, ‘enjoys working with her hands’) (60%). Others said that ‘money’ might be an enticement (18%) and also the
‘helping’ nature of the job (5%). 5% didn’t know. A proportion said it might be because the woman had ‘something to
prove’ (12%).
The ‘dirty, smelly, messy and unhygienic’ nature of the job (e.g. ‘getting wet, ‘drains, smells, etc.’, ‘sewage’, ‘dealing with
grease’, ‘smelly’, ‘dealing with toilets’) was said to be the most off-putting aspect of plumbing to a woman (70%), by
especially boys (boys 84%; girls 54%). Other reasons were the physical nature of the work (e.g. ‘lifting’, ‘hard work –
you have to be strong’, ‘heavy work’, ‘using tools’) (9%) and ‘the potential for male teasing or harassment’ (e.g. ‘men
ogling, making fun of not doing the job well’) (4%). 5% said ‘nothing’, 7% said ‘everything’ and 4% said ‘no different
from men’.
Both boys and girls described the car mechanic job as either all or mostly men (Figure 1). Girls (62%) were more likely
than boys (42%) to reason that this is simply because mechanics is ‘a man’s job’ (e.g. ‘guys and cars go together’, ‘it’s
a guy kind of thing’, ‘manly job’) whilst boys (58%) were more likely than girls (38%) to explain that girls are simply
‘not suited’ to the job because of its ‘macho’ implications (e.g. ‘women aren’t attracted to grease’, ‘women typically
don’t do dirt and fixing’, ‘never seen a girl car mechanic’, ‘women don’t want to break their nails’).
Descriptions of the ‘typical’ mechanic were highly gender based. Girls (60%) described the typical mechanic as a
‘macho man’ (e.g. ‘macho’, ‘strong man’, ‘blokes’, ‘muscular’). Boys also described the car mechanic in this way (33%)
but were also likely to mention a basic ‘enjoyment of cars’ as the defining factor (boys 37%; girls 15%), as well as
‘being hands on/practical’ (boys 17%; girls 8%). Both boys and girls alluded to a ‘pub-going/drinking beer’ stereotype
(boys 7%; girls 8%) and also that the typical mechanic just doesn’t mind getting dirty/greasy (boys 7%; girls 12%).
Looking at why a girl might nonetheless want to become a car mechanic, most (77%) said that it would be because of a
strong interest in cars (e.g. ‘likes cars’, ‘to fulfil enjoyment of cars’, ‘interested in mechanics’). A proportion (23%) of
especially girls (girls 29%; boys 18%) said that it might be that the woman might want to prove something (e.g. ‘to
prove that girls can do it, to prove to self’, ‘to prove a point that women can if she’s interested’, ‘show that she’s good
enough’). Boys and girls did not differ in their explanations.
Girls said that the most (91%) off-putting aspect of being a car mechanic is the fact of having to get dirty/greasy (e.g.
‘working in a dirty environment’, ‘grime’, ‘greasy’, ‘getting dirty’, ‘grime’). 9% said that the job ‘isn’t girly’ and may
involve ‘cutting up your hands’ or ‘breaking your nails’.
The majority of both boys and girls described chefs as being ‘equally men and women’ (Figure 1). Most (94%) appeared
to agree that ‘both could do the job just as well’ and that there is nothing inherently male or female about it (e.g.
‘anyone can do it’, ‘both can cook’, ‘both find it attractive’, ‘both are capable of cooking’, ‘men and women can both be
creative’, ‘it’s a unisex job’, ‘popular job for both men and women’, ‘lots of famous men and women’). A small proportion
(6%) said that men tend to dominate the profession (e.g. ‘men like to do it better’). The typical chef was described in
the main (65%) as ‘someone who likes food’ or who ‘enjoys cooking’ (e.g. ‘likes cooking’, ‘like’s food and cooking’,
‘someone with a taste for good food’, ‘someone who likes working with food’). Other descriptions were ‘hard working’
(6%), ‘young’ (6%), ‘directive/strict’ (14%), ‘comfortable working under pressure’ (12%), ‘creative’ (14%), ‘varies’
(8%), and ‘either a man or woman’ (6%).
72% of the sample said that the reason why someone would become a chef is because they enjoy cooking (e.g. ‘like
working with food’, ‘like new food’, ‘interested in food’). Other less salient reasons were ‘the ability to cook well’ (13%),
the opportunity to work in a pleasant working environment (e.g. ‘flexible hours, ‘working with others’, ‘see results of
work’, ‘fun, nice smells’ (9%) and good pay (6%). Off-putting factors were mainly the image of having to work under
pressure (e.g. ‘working under criticism’, ‘pressure’, ‘rushing about’, ‘the long hours’, ‘fear of mistakes’, ‘stressful’, ‘long
nights and long hours’, ‘hot’, ‘unhappy customers’, getting shouted at by people like Gordon Ramsay’) (44%) and the
messiness of the job (17%). However, 32% said that there was nothing particularly off-putting about the job. Other odd
mentions were ‘having to wear a hairnet’ (2%) and having to deal with meat if a vegetarian (6%).
Almost 95% of the sample (Figure 1) said that both men and women are equally likely to be in telesales because in
principle ‘anyone can do it’ (e.g. ‘both can do the job equally well’, ‘anyone – if they want to do it’, ‘not a manly or a
womanly job’, ‘doesn’t have masculine or feminine features to the job’). A very small percentage said that telesales is
‘mainly women’ 5%) because ‘basically it’s girly job’ (e.g. ‘answering phones’, ‘speaking nicely’).
The typical telesales person was described as either ‘confident’ (e.g. ‘confident on the phone’) (31%), ‘persuasive’ (e.g.
‘someone who can argue for something’, ‘someone who can make you buy things’, ‘someone persuasive, sneaky, can get
round people’) (21%) or ‘someone not clever’ (e.g. ‘someone ignorant’, ‘someone without good education’, ‘someone not
clever’) (40%); a small percentage however said ‘clever’ (4%) or ‘fat/unfit’ (4%).
Reflecting on why someone might want to be in telesales, both boys and girls speculated that they would be good at
communicating and selling e.g. ‘like to sell stuff’, ‘good talking skills’, ‘good at persuading people) (45%). 19% said that
the job is ‘easy’ (e.g. ‘because it’s easy’, ‘can’t be bothered to find anything else’, ‘easy job – fit in with social life and
kids’, ‘like not to have to very much’). 8% said because the person might ‘like talking on the phone’ and 24% said
because of not being able to get anything else because of not achieving GCSE’s. 4% gave a miscellany of reasons
including ‘ugly – cannot be seen’, ‘boring’, ‘can speak posh’). The most off-putting aspect of telesales was described as
‘sitting down all day on the telephone’ (e.g. ‘long hours sitting down all day’, ‘talking on the phone all day’) (61%) and
also, for especially girls, ‘negative customer responses’ (e.g. ‘rude customers’, ‘talking to grumpy people’, ‘getting
shouted at’) (13%). 4% just said it would be ‘boring’.
How do young peoples image of themselves as girls or boys impact on their attitudes to jobs typically done by
the other sex?
The above analysis shows how job perceptions are heavily influenced by ‘who’ is most typically doing the job (i.e.
relative proportions of male and female employees) as well as the nature of the work involved. This in turn has led to
jobs being linked with ‘masculine/feminine’ stereotypes reflecting traditional gender roles (Dunnell & Bakkan, 1991).
Research has shown that these stereotypes are then used by young people, rather the details of the job per se, as the
basis for making job decisions. In this way, young people accept or reject jobs because of a gender image as ‘me’ or
‘not me’ long before they have even considered whether they can actually do the job (Hacket 1997; Yowell, 2000).
It is generally agreed that the maintenance of self-consistency is critical to job decision making and that people select
from various job options by imagining the typical person (e.g. ‘typical plumber’, ‘typical nursery nurse’) who would be
associated with them. They then choose the job alternative which provides the best match to their own self-image
(Niedenthal, Cantor & Kihlstrom, 1985; Setterland & Niedenthal, 1993). This kind of self-to-job matching process is
supported by many studies of young people’s decision making (Martinot & Monteil, 2000). For example, adolescent girls
who describe themselves as to some extent ‘masculine’ are more likely to prefer male-dominated occupations (Feather
& Said, 1983). Hannover and Kessels (2004; 2005) also found evidence for self-to-job matching in academic choices
among high school children. In their studies, girls studying traditionally female university subjects were more likely to
describe themselves as feminine than girls studying non-traditional subjects. The same has been found for boys who
describe themselves as masculine (e.g. Nosek, Banaji, & Greenwald, 2002; Kessels, 2005).
This process of matching is largely unconscious. By aged 8, children make these kinds of stereotypical job choices,
matching self to occupations based mainly on gender. This pattern does not appear to change much with the onset of
adolescence (Croll, 2005; Lauver & Jones, 1991; Sellers, Satcher, & Comas, 1999). However, some have found that
occupational aspirations do alter in late adolescence and early adulthood (e.g. Shu Marini, 1997; Rindfuss, Cooksey &
Sutterlin, 1999), although the reality is that in the UK many critical academic/career choices have already been made
by the age of 14 (EOC, 2004). The choices made at 14-16 in fact strongly determine the options subsequently accessible
to an individual for both employment and higher education (Miller et al, 2004).
Our school survey involving 2,447 young people from years 9 to 11 (aged 13-16 years) confirmed this picture of the self-
selecting young person expressing job preferences that perpetuate gender segregation. Boys (n=1229) are significantly
more likely than girls (n=1149) to express a desire to do plumbing, car mechanics, carpentry and building (Figure 2).
Girls are in turn significantly more likely than boys to express a desire to do child-care, care assisting, travel agency,
and hairdressing (Figure 3).
Figure 2. Young peoples preference ratings of male-dominated jobs.
girls boys girls boys girls boy s girls boys
plumbing mechanics building carpentry
would like to do
would not like to do
Figure 3. Young peoples preference ratings of female-dominated jobs.
girls boys girls boys girls boys girls boys
hairdresser care
would like to
would not like to
Our interviews with 60 boys and 60 girls from years 10 and 11 (aged 14-16 years) explored these self-selection
processes in more detail with reference to four jobs (car mechanics, plumbing, nursery nursing, hairdressing). The
interview sampled was explicitly recruited to reflect the views of young people planning to do NVQ training.
Nursery Nursing
Almost 68% of boys rated nursery nursing as unattractive relative to only 14% of girls; in turn, almost 70% of girls
rated nursery nursing as attractive relative to only 9% of boys. Those who were not attracted to nursery nursing
reasoned that working with children simply did not appeal to them (e.g. ‘being around kids is not interesting’, ‘don’t like
kids’, ‘don’t get on well with kids’) or that it is ‘just not me’. A small number said that either that it was ‘girly job’ or that
it would not lead them anywhere. Those who were attracted to nursery nursing said that they liked working with kids
(e.g. ‘I like children’, ‘It’s fun to look after children’, ‘I like babies, I’m good at looking after them’) or that the job
amounted to an overall ‘positive work experience’.
Asked to think about the ‘image’ of nursery nursing as a job choice, more boys than girls talked about it as a ‘girls job’,
‘not really for men’ (29%), although both boys and girls described it as ‘in general a good job to have’ (e.g. ‘respected
job’, ‘trusted’, ‘devoted’) (40%). More girls than boys think others see nursery nursing as ‘hard work’ (7%), ‘fun or
exciting’ (7%). Other less frequently mentioned images were ‘boring’ (10%) and ‘bad money’ (3%). 85% of boys said
that their friends would tease them (e.g. ‘weird for a guy to do’, ‘teased’, ‘laugh at me’, ‘feminine job’, ‘loser’, ‘idiot’,
‘stupid’) if they took up nursery nursing. The majority of girls (53%) on the other hand described their friends as having
positive reactions – being pleased or proud of them, ‘looking up to them’ for ‘being such a good person’. 34% of girls
however said that their friends would be largely non-committal (e.g. ‘it would not matter to them’) about them taking up
nursery nursing.
Most girls said that their parents would largely react very favourably to them taking up nursery nursing (60%); others
said they wouldn’t mind (15%). Boys were no more likely than girls to describe their parents as having ‘negative
reactions’ to them taking up nursery nursing, although for different reasons. Girls mainly talked about their parents
having higher expectations of them (22%) whilst boys thought that their parents would judge them as ‘not being
serious’ (i.e. ‘strange’, ‘weird’, ‘outrageous’, ‘kill me’, ‘disappointed’) (24%). Nonetheless, 42% of boys said that their
parents would support and encourage them if they really wanted to do the job.
A high proportion of both boys (52%) and girls (85%) believed that they had the ability to be a nursery nurse; more
boys (39%) than girls (11%) nonetheless said that they could not. The biggest reason why not was being ‘unable to cope’
(e.g. ‘would not be able to cope’, ‘couldn’t handle the kids’, ‘couldn’t handle the responsibility’, ‘not tolerant enough’, ‘not
patient enough’). Some – all boys – also said that they lacked the skills.
Girls (73%) were more likely than boys (13%) to rate hairdressing attractive, whereas boys (66%) were more likely
than girls (4%) to rate it as unattractive. Girls (70%) emphasised an intrinsic interest in ‘beauty’ things (fashion, style,
playing with hair, beauty treatments) as the main driver of attraction to hairdressing, while boys (60%) cited the
opposite (i.e. lack of a basic interest in such things). Some boys said that hairdressing was a job for gays’ (19%).
A quarter of the sample (comprising mainly boys) described the image of hairdressing as primarily a ‘girls-job’ (e.g.
‘girly job’, ‘girly/blonde bimbo’, ‘a job for women or gay men’). Other images given were ‘good job’ involving skilled work
(26%), ‘fun/creative’ (17%) and ‘glamorous/trendy’ (14%). Negative images are ‘not well paid’ (5%) and a job for
someone who has failed their exams/who is not very clever (12%).
Girls said that their friends would be largely positive about taking on hairdressing (92%), whilst boys said that their
friends would probably ‘tease’ them about doing ‘girls job’ (73%), using labels like ‘gay’ or ‘weird’ (e.g. ‘gay or stupid’,
‘take the mick’, ‘think I was gay’). Girls also say that their parents would also be likely to react positively whereas boys
thought that their parents would react more negatively - e.g. ‘could have done more with my intelligence’,
‘disappointed’, ‘could do better’, ‘think I was gay’, ‘think I’m stupid’. However, a fair proportion of boys (43%) reckoned
that their parents wouldn’t mind.
Girls (85%) were more likely than boys to say they would have the ability to be a hairdresser if they wanted to, with
boys (50%) more likely in turn, to say that they would not. However, a good number of boys said that they could do the
job too (44%). Explanations for inability were principally about not having either the skill, desire or the potential to
learn the skills needed.
76% of girls described plumbing as unattractive relative to only 11% of boys; in turn, 73% of boys consider plumbing
attractive relative to only 6% of girls. Plumbing was considered unattractive because of ‘negative job conditions’,
especially its association with toilets, nasty smells, and getting wet (52%). Boys were more likely to mention a lack of
interest in basic pipe work. Other less frequently mentioned reasons were being unable to visualise doing it (7%) or
because it’s a ‘mans job’ (3%). Apart from a basic interest in fixing pipes (14%), those who saw plumbing as attractive
described it as a good trade – it pays well, is a trade in demand and has good career prospects (23%).
Invited to consider the ‘image’ of plumbing, the majority said reckoned it would be seen as a ‘good respected job’
including good pay (36%). A small proportion mentioned ‘hard working’ (17%) but another small proportion associated
plumbing with ‘cowboys’, ‘con men’, ‘loafers’ and ‘fat men’ (14%). 11% described it as a ‘mans job’. Other negative
images were ‘dirty and messy’ (14%) and of being something done by those who are ‘not very clever’ (5%). 3%
associated plumbing with ‘being self-employed’.
Boys thought that their friends would think they had made a good decision if they took up plumbing (36%), whilst girls
(93%) said that their friends would be ‘shocked’ (e.g. ‘you’re joking’, ‘odd’, ‘weird’, ‘I’ve gone funny’, ‘they would laugh’)
by their decision. 10% said their friends wouldn’t mind and 10% said they didn’t know how their friends would react.
Boys (72%) also thought that their parents would
approve of
their decision but girls (78%) anticipated that their
parents would disapprove and like friends, be quite shocked about them taking up a ‘man’s job’. 22% of boys and 15%
of girls said their parents ‘wouldn’t mind’.
Predominantly boys (boys 67%; girls 22%) said that they could do plumbing if they wanted to whilst mostly girls said
that they could not (girls 52%; boys 30%). Of the girls who said they could not, this was put down to not being suited to
the job because of its manual (e.g. ‘not strong enough’, ‘not good at physical work’) and/or potentially ‘dirty’ nature
(e.g. ‘don’t like to get dirty’). Boys who reckoned that plumbing was not within their capability attributed this to the
complexity of the job or the need for specialist training.
75% of boys described mechanics as attractive relative to 10% of girls; in turn, 70% of girls were more likely to rate
mechanics as unattractive relative to 6% of boys. Especially girls (girls 60%; boys 7%) said that they have a basic
disinterest in cars and everything they signify in terms of oil and grease and that it is basically a ‘boys job’, whilst 7%
of boys said they are attracted to the fact that it is a ‘boy’s job’. Those attracted to being a mechanic justified either a
basic interest in fixing cars (43%) or in simply working with their hands (11%).
44% of the sample – especially boys, described the image of mechanics in general as ‘a good skilled job earning a good
living’. More girls (40%) than boys (9%) described the image of the job as ‘mainly for boys’ largely because of the basic
requirements of the job (e.g. ‘a job for strong men’, ‘mainly blokes do it’). Other images described are ‘hard work’ (9%),
‘dirty and messy’ (14%), and ‘knowledgeable about cars’ (5%). 5% didn’t know. 50% of boys reckoned that their friends
would say it was a positive move to take on mechanics whilst 50% said that their friends wouldn’t mind. 46% of girls
said that their friends would be ‘surprised’ if they went into mechanics (e.g. ‘why is she doing that?’) and an additional
40% said that their friends would probably tease them about it (e.g. ‘they say I was a bit mad’, ‘they’d think I’d gone
crazy’). Two-thirds of boys said that their parents would be positive about them becoming a car mechanic relative to a
quarter of girls. In turn, over two-thirds of girls said that their parents would react negatively or be shocked/surprised
if they went into mechanics (e.g. ‘could do better’, ‘unfulfilled potential’, ‘higher expectations of me’).
Over 60% reckoned they could become a mechanic if they wanted to, although this was mainly boys. Nonetheless, 42%
of girls said they could, if they wanted, do mechanics. Of those who said they could not become a mechanic, both boys
and girls explained that this was largely due to a lack of basic interest/inclination or that they did not have the
necessary knowledge. A small proportion of girls said they couldn’t become mechanics because of a basic dislike of
getting dirty.
Analysis of Gender Messages in Job Advertisement
According the Equal Opportunities Commission (2004), and following the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (as amended), an
advertisement might state expressly that a man or a woman is required for a particular job, or suggest by the
terminology used, or by illustrations, or some other means, that there is an intention to discriminate on grounds of sex.
There are limited circumstances in which it will be lawful to restrict a post to a person of a specified sex. By s.38(3) of
the Sex Discrimination Act (SDA) a job description with a clear reference to gender/sex’ (such as 'waiter', 'salesgirl',
'postman' or 'stewardess') is taken to indicate an intention to discriminate, unless the advertisement contains any
indication to the contrary.
Section 48 allows employers to "encourage" members of one sex only to take advantage of opportunities for doing
particular work where that sex is under-represented in the workforce as set out in those provisions. An advertisement
could lawfully include a statement encouraging members of the under-represented sex to apply, although the advert
must not suggest that applicants from the other sex will be discriminated against in terms of who is selected for the
position. Furthermore, an advertisement could contain a job requirement which could potentially constitute unlawful
indirect sex discrimination e.g. a requirement to work full-time, or a mobility requirement.
Generally, advertisements communicate information by their visual appearance and the language used to describe jobs.
The Advertising Association in the UK has defined advertisements as “messages, paid for by those who send them,
intended to inform or influence people who receive them”.
Manca and Manca (1994) argue that advertising works in three different ways. First, it presents a way of understanding
and interpreting our social world. Second, it categorises different types of message according to current meanings and
interpretations, where “appropriate gender behaviour” may be one form of message. Third, the ideological functioning
of advertising works in such a way that despite the possibility of many meanings, a particular meaning is produced (e.g.
that caring jobs are most suited to women). In this way the individual is initiated into particular ways of seeing the
Content analysis has often been used as a means of studying advertisements and many researchers have identified a
distinctive pattern of gender messages using this method. Courtney and Whipple (1983) pull together findings from a
number of content studies and list some of the most significant trends regarding the portrayal of gender in
advertisements. They cite in particular the results of a 1972 study, commissioned by the National Organisation for
Women in the USA, as reported by Hennessee and Nicholson (in Courtney & Whipple, 1983). This organisation studies a
total of 1241 advertisements over a period of one-and-a-half years, focusing specifically on the portrayal of women.
They found that 42.6% of women were shown doing household chores, while the accompanying men were depicted as
incompetent but very good at advising. 37.5% of the women were shown as adjuncts to men, while only 0.3% were seen
as autonomous and a further 16.7% were shown as sex objects. The main emphasis of the report was placed on how the
pervasive nature of such images can have a profound effect upon the self-images and behaviours of both men and
Peirce (1989, in Fowles, 1996) made the link between this research on adults and the way that children’s genders were
depicted throughout the media. Research looking at the gender images of young people under the age of 20 conveyed
by three major USA network channels over a period of one week, showed that the activities children were engaged in
were ‘typical’ of gender stereotypes. For example, girls were shown playing with dolls, dressing up, helping in the
kitchen and talking on the telephone, while boys participated in sports, played at fighting and behaved mischievously.
Peirce summed up by suggesting that ‘the girl’s place is in the home, and the boy’s place is wherever he wants to be’.
Other researchers have noted stereotypical gender messages in job advertisements. For example, Fowles (1996) found
that the main characteristics to shine through in pictures of women in advertising were most likely to be ‘niceness’ or
‘tenderness’, while boy characteristics were more likely to be linked to ‘toughness’ or ‘expertise’.
Content Analysis
We studied a number of job advertisements and college prospectuses found in the national press, trade magazines and
online job search engines, as well as course descriptions from a variety of college prospectuses (paper format as well
as online) from across England. , Two researchers reviewed, independently, a number of job advertisements and course
prospectuses to develop a set of categories. Second, the researchers compared notes, discussed possible differences
and reached agreement on two sets of categories (one for job advertisements and one for college prospectuses).
Third, the researchers applied the set of both categories to code job advertisements and college prospectuses. Job
advertisements were randomly selected from on-line websites using general search engines (e.g. Yahoo). Job centres,
recruitment agencies and trade web sites were scanned for vacancies and job advertisements were selected in a
random fashion by two researchers (10 job advertisements per occupation targeted). Trade magazines and National
press publications were not utilized in the analysis as these publications did not have vacancies of interest to the
current work. College course prospectuses were randomly selected from a collection requested from 30 colleges
across England.
Prospectuses were screened by two researchers. Only prospectuses containing course descriptions of targeted
occupations were included for analysis. Of those, 10 course descriptions per occupation were chosen at random. In
total, 40 job advertisements and 40 course descriptions were content analysed. This sample size was randomly fixed in
view of the difficulties entailed in finding vacancies for some of the targeted occupations.
The reliability of our coding process was above the accepted rate using Cohen’s kappa=0.7 (Miles and Huberman,
1994)). Coding units were sentences. Photographs and/or illustrations accompanying job advertisements and/or
college prospectuses were also included in the coding. Coding units for photographs/illustrations were the pictures
Nine categories were developed from job advertisements:
1) gender specific (e.g. “man needed”).
2) type of person required (e.g. “matured and experienced”).
3) working conditions (e.g. “working in a busy garage”).
4) salary (e.g. “£1700 pa”).
5) qualifications and experience (e.g. “previous experience required”).
6) duties (e.g. “work involves …”).
7) career promotion and progression opportunities (e.g. “career progression on offer”).
8) training offered (e.g. “ongoing training”), and
9) perks offered (e.g. ”private healthcare offered”).
Ten categories were derived from course descriptions:
1) gender specific (e.g. “course especially designed for women”).
2) requirements for course (e.g. “NVQ Level 2 required”).
3) outlets after course (e.g. “you will be qualified to work in…”).
4) personal qualities (e.g. “you will require the skills to communicate….”).
5) environment of course (e.g. “vehicle body repair facilities of the highest standard”).
6) type of work involved (e.g. “hands on or desk based”).
7) skills needed (e.g. “you will need to demonstrate a level of literacy”).
8) stereotypic gender pictures (i.e male mechanics and female nursery nurses).
9) pictures opposite to stereotype, and
10) subjects involved listed (e.g. “subjects include: install hot/cold waters systems/heating/sanitation”).
The final stage involved the coding of 10 job advertisements per occupation (40 in total) and 10 college prospectuses
per occupation (40 in total) with the help of a statistical package (SPSS). Categories were exclusive, coded sentences
or images fell in one category or another, and exhaustive, in that all possible coded cases were included.
A summary of the findings is presented below:-
Job Advertisements
Job advertisements could be described as almost gender-neutral in tone. However, specific gender differences were
identifiable for two categories as follows.
Working Conditions -
Within this category, job advertisements for the traditionally female occupations tended to
include information on working conditions, whereas job advertisements for the traditionally male occupations did
not tend to contain this information. In addition, the descriptive vocabulary (beautiful setting, lovely building) found
in some of these advertisements indicated some gender orientation towards women.
Duties Involved -
The opposite pattern was found for this category, with adverts for traditionally male jobs
providing information about the specific duties or tasks involved. In contrast, the job advertisements for
traditionally female jobs did not tend to include such information. The character of the vocabulary used in these
descriptions (rigorous and to the point, e.g. duties include working on renovation, fitting plumbing and heating)
points to some gender orientation towards men.
Only advertisements for the caring occupation of Nursery Nurse/Playgroup Worker specified the type of person
required for the job (see Box 1 Prototype advert below for a Nursery Nurse). This could indicate a concern with
targeting personal qualities typically thought to be characteristic of ‘caring/motherly’ people.
Advertisements for the job Plumber placed more emphasis on salary (see Box 2 Prototype advert below for a Plumber).
Nursery Nurse/Playgroup Worker, Plumber and Car Mechanic job advertisements carried qualifications or experience
requirements, and only Hairdresser advertisements did not.
Very few job advertisements specified career prospects, training opportunities or job benefits.
Box 1 Prototype Advertisement - Nursery Nurse
Wonderland Day Nursery is a new nursery in the beautiful setting of Lands End.
We need a great team to complement a great building and as such we require
Qualified Nursery Nurses.
If you are a mature and experienced Nursery Nurse with an NNEB, BTEC National Nursery Qualification (Level 2 or3) or
equivalent we need you. You should be enthusiastic, talented, dedicated, hard working and willing to work as part of a
team. Experience of working in a Day Care setting for under-fives and two year minimum experience in a similar
environment, essential. You will be required to undergo a Police Search in order to comply with the requirements of the
“Protection of Children Act”.
An Application Package is available. Please contact:
Box 2 Prototype Advertisement – Plumber
Plumbers & Corgi engineers required for immediate start. Ideally aged 30-50 years and of smart appearance. Must
have an excellent all round knowledge of domestic plumbing, with a minimum of 5 years experience and good
communication skills. Full driving licence, own transport and tools essential.
Duties will include general plumbing, installation of sanitary-ware, showers and trays, checking pre-fitted baths. Some
tiling maybe required. Successful applicants will be required to provide a standard disclosure. Disclosure expense will
be met by employer. Rates from £25p/hr. Local areas: Hours to suit. Telephone
College Prospectuses
Findings from the content analysis of college prospectuses were not as varied as those of the job advertisements.
Course descriptions were overall very uniform and gender-neutral. Nearly all course descriptions included course
requirements. Course descriptions mostly included possible careers following course completion. Very few course
descriptions specified personal qualities as a requirement for the course. Specific information as to the type of work
involved during the course was included in most course descriptions. Almost 50% of pictures/illustrations contained in
course descriptions for Hairdressing were gender stereotypic. Four out of forty course descriptions for the occupation
Plumber contained pictures opposite to stereotype.
Overall, whilst both job advertisements and college prospectuses were mostly gender-neutral in their content, there
are some gender-oriented aspects in the way ‘working conditions’ and ‘duties involved’ are described. The gender
messages discernible in these advertisements may in turn attract or repel certain types of applicant. The advert for a
nursery nurse talks about personal qualities appealing to a motherly caring nature whilst the one for the plumber talks
about very concrete duties and is specific on salary. Individuals reading these advertisements might have the ability to
decipher and reflect on the gender messages being communicated. It may be possible that by improving the way the
school curriculum teaches young people about the benefits and rewards of jobs they in turn will be less swayed by bias
in advertisements. As Durkin (2005) has argued, children and adolescents can be discerning readers. However, the fact
may not necessarily imply that they actually do,
this in practice (Linn, de Benedisctus, & Delucchi, 1982).
The power of boys and girls gender images to dictate job decisions
Gottfredson’s Theory of occupational choice (1980; 1996; 2005) argues that the developing individual initially defines
themselves in roles typical of their sex that is they are “sex-role oriented”. As they mature, they become more
sensitive to social status offered by careers and then finally more concerned with the interest or values associated
with jobs or careers (interest/value oriented). These steps add onto each other in that first sex-role will rule out
certain job possibilities, and then social status will be used to refine the options. Finally, from the final refined pool of
options (i.e. ‘acceptable alternatives’), interests and values are then used to select the job of choice. In this way,
individuals rule out successively more sectors of work as unacceptable for someone like themselves. Those
occupations left in the pile are then ‘acceptable alternatives’ from which the individual will ideally choose a career.
However, an individual may have to make a compromise by relinquishing his/her most preferred alternatives, for more
compatible ones. In so doing however, individuals are said to be unwilling to compromise on especially the sex-type of
the job followed by its prestige value. Compromises may be made because of factors like geographical area, social
class, financial constraints, and so on, as well as personal factors like self-confidence, abilities and achievements.
There is substantial evidence now for the role of all three factors: sex-type, prestige and interests in occupational
choice (Taylore & Prior, 1985; Henderson, Hesketh & Tuffin, 1988). However, some have found that sex-type is not
always the dominant factor in occupational choice, with either prestige (Leung & Plake, 1990; Leung, 1993) or interests
(Hesketh, Elmslie, & Kaldor, 1990) sometimes emerging as the key choice criterion.
Our research looked systematically at the relative power of sex-role, the prestige value of occupations and personal
interests to influence occupational choice amongst 14 to 16 year olds (see Technical Report in Appendix 9). 74 state
senior school students (38 boys and 36 girls) from 6 different secondary schools, participated in an interview study.
Schools were co-ed (2), boy only (2) and girl only (2). Each student participated in an interview consisting of checklists
and card sort tasks.
The checklist comprised of The Career Pathfinder (SHL, 2004) as a measure of ‘occupational interest’ across six
categories: people (service and socially oriented, helping others), enterprising (business oriented), data oriented,
realistic, ideas oriented and artistic. Sex-role was measured using scales of masculinity and femininity. Prestige was
measured using ratings of importance of working in a prestigious or high status job (Hesketh et al, 1989). Additionally,
students were asked whether they considered themselves to be a typical boy/girl.
The card sort task presented students with a selection of 54 occupations depicting either a boy, girl or neutral sex-type
(against a statistical distribution of boys and girls in the job), prestige level (high, medium, low) and interest type
(people, data, enterprising, realistic, ideas, artistic). Prestige judgements of jobs were made using criteria from the
International Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) Project (McMillan & Jones, 2000). Occupations were printed on
cards and students had to sort them into three categories: occupations they would find acceptable to do, uncertain
about, unacceptable to do (consistent with the idea of ‘acceptable alternatives’). Finally students chose the occupation
they would be most likely to do from each of the three categories (consistent with the idea of compromise): no
compromise (unrestricted in their choice), acceptable but not personal favourites (low compromise), and occupations
which had been classified as unacceptable (high compromise) (Blanchard & Lichtenberg, 2003). In each condition,
students rated the characteristics of the typical person doing the job, the gender ratio and prestige level.
The results showed that:
There was an association between the degree to which students describe themselves as masculine or feminine
and choice of occupation: that is, they chose occupations they perceived to typify these characteristics. That is,
girls who saw themselves as strongly ‘feminine’ were more likely to choose traditional female occupations.
Girls who described themselves as strongly feminine were more likely to choose a job that they perceived to be
‘feminine’ than one that was statistically female-dominated. Likewise boys who described themselves as strongly
masculine were more likely to choose a job that they perceived to be ‘masculine’ than one that was statistically,
Under all circumstances, self-identity as masculine or feminine was preserved over occupational interests in the
choices made.
In situations of unrestricted choice, self-identity as masculine or feminine was preserved over prestige.
Self-identity as feminine was also preserved over occupational prestige in situations of low compromise
(acceptable but not personal favourite) but not high compromise (completely unacceptable), while self-identity as
masculine were preserved over occupational prestige only in situations of high compromise.
In short, sex-role and especially self-perceptions of femininity were consistently preserved in occupational choice.
Interests appeared to be the least important factor overall. Boys were more sensitive to job prestige than girls when
forced to compromise a lot. In practice, it is also likely that ‘interests’ will be highly gender-oriented (e.g. girls more
people oriented, boys more data oriented) such that sex-role and occupational interest may amount to one and the
same thing.
Gender Differences and Similarities in Occupational Choice
Post-16 Intentions
Just over half (n=1366) the school’s sample (56%) said they planned to do A levels at post-16; other plans included
doing NVQs (5%) or an Apprenticeship (10%), and getting a job (11%). 14% said they did not know what they were going
to do. 4% did not provide any data. Girls (65%) reported being significantly more likely than boys (52%) to plan A-
levels and also NVQs (girls 8% versus boys 3%). Boys (17%) in turn seemed more inclined than girls (4%) to
Apprenticeships and also to jobs (boys 14% versus girls 8%).
Educational and training Inclinations
79% of the school’s sample said that they would contemplate on-the-job training, 82% a short-course, 82% a medium
length course, and 63% a long course of education or training (Figure 4).
Figure 4. Young people’s attitudes to further education and training.
boys girls boys girls boys girls boys girls
Put another way, 15% said they would be unwilling to pursue a long course of training, 5% unwilling to pursue a medium
length course, 6% a short-course, and 8% on-the-job training. Notably, girls reported being more willing than boys to
consider doing any form of further education or training, whether long, medium, or short in duration. In turn, more
boys than girls said they would be willing to do on-the-job training.
Most Likely Job Attributes
School survey students were invited to select from a list of job attributes those applicable to their most likely job.
These attributes were then summarised into factors.
Six factors were identifiable:
1. Intrinsic job features (referring to the intrinsic aspects of jobs),
2. Work schedules (referring to working hours),
3. Objective job features (referring to intrinsic and extrinsic rewards associated with jobs),
4. Approval (from family, friends, teachers),
5. Societal function (image and contribution to society), and
6. Gender (referring to messy/dirty aspects of jobs and whether you work predominantly in a mixed
environment or with only members of your own sex).
Items making up each factor were summed and then averaged to produce factor scores. These are shown in Figure 5
and summarised in Table 1. It is important to note that in the most likely job scenario young people felt they would get a
poorly rewarded job (this is shown as a negative score on “objective job features”).
Figure 5. How young people picture their most likely job.
intr ins ic job
obje ct ive
appr oval s ocie tal
gende r of job
Table 1. How young people ratethe features of their most likely job.
Intrinsic job
Work schedules Objective job
Approval Societal
Gender of job
Learn new
Work as part of
a team
Varied Job
See the results
of what you do
You can meet
and be with
other people
You are
responsible for
getting things
Flexible working
Working hours
allow a good
social life
Combine work
with kids
No long working
Relatively low
Relatively low
chance of
Relatively low
Not such a highly
respected Job
Relatively little
job security
Relatively little
chance to use
Friends would
Teachers would
Parents would
to help
to society
Working with
others mainly of
same sex
Overall, the intrinsic features of the job combined with approval from friends, teachers and parents were most strongly
featured in the most likely job scenario. Flexible working schedules (
involving long hours) and societal contribution
were also strongly featured in the most likely job. Gender of job does not feature so strongly. Girls rated job features,
approval and societal function more applicable to their most likely job than boys. Boys, in turn, rated the ‘gender of the
job’ as slightly more applicable to their most likely job scenario, meaning that boys more than girls expect to work
predominantly with members of their own sex and are more tied to what is ‘typical’ for their gender than girls (Miller,
Neathey, Pollard & Hill, 2004).
Ideal Job Attributes
School survey students did the same exercise in association with their ideal job. This produced a very similar pattern of
items in the form of six factors. These results are presented in figure 6 and summarised in Table 2.
Figure 6. How young people picture their ideal job.
intr ins ic job
feature s
appr oval s o cietal
gende r of
Table 2. How young people rate the features of their ideal job.
Intrinsic job
Work schedules Objective
Approval Societal
Gender of job
Learn new
Work as part of
a team
Varied Job
See the results
of what you do
You can meet
and be with
other people
You are
responsible for
getting things
Flexible working
Working hours
allow a good
social life
Combine work
with kids
Long working
Varied Job
Job Security
Good salary
Chance of
High status job
Respected Job
Friends would be
less likely to
Teachers would
be less likely to
Parents would
be less likely to
to help
to society
Chance to
use brains
Not working
with others
mainly of same
Not messy/dirty
The ideal job was high on intrinsic job features and rewards, had a strong societal function. However, unlike the most
likely job they will end up doing the ideal job is well paid (the score for “objective rewards is now positive).
In the ideal
job they also predict they will work in a mixed environment and not in messy/dirty conditions. Notably, the ‘working
schedules’ factor also included the potential for working long hours alongside the ability to combine work and kids or
social life. Interestingly, the ideal job appears not to be one that friends, teachers or parents would necessarily
approve of (hence the negative rating for “Approval”).
To summarise, the most likely job was rated high on intrinsic satisfaction, approval from others, and contribution to
society, though lacking in objective rewards including good pay. In the ideal job on the other hand, objective rewards
were featured highly although recognising that this might be at the cost of long working hours and potentially also less
overt approval from others.
Interview students (n=120) intending to study for NVQs on leaving school were invited to do a similar exercise
pertaining to their ‘ideal job’, this time with 32 different attributes. Appendix 7 gives frequency counts for each
attribute as well as for boys and girls separately, with the top ten attributes for each respectively shown in Table 3.
Table 3. A comparison of what boys and girls say are their ideal job features.
Boys Top Ranked Ideal Job Features Girls Top Ranked Ideal Job Features
The job offers the chance to earn a lot of money
Learn lots of new things and skills (94%)
This job involves lots of organization and planning
The job is trendy (89%)
There is a lot travel involved (88%)
You can see the results of what you do (87%)
The job offers good chances of advancement and
promotion (86%)
A job that people look up to and respect (86%)
Lots of variety (79%)
Able to combine work and family (78%)
Responsibility for getting things done (78%)
The job is good for being able to combine work
and kids (98%)
The job offers good chances of advancement and
promotion (94%)
The job is trendy (94%)
Learn lots of new things and skills (93%)
Job security (91%)
There is a lot of travel involved (89%)
You can see the results of what you do (89%)
A job that people look up to and respect (85%)
Worthwhile to society (85%)
Lots of variety (85%)
Chance to earn a lot of money (83%)
Chance to be creative (82%)
From Table 3, boys and girls agreed that the ideal job would be a respected, trendy and also a secure job, earn them
lots of money, afford a learning and also a travel opportunity, offer variety and an ability to combine work and kids, and
involve lots of organising and planning. Girls however rated high the ability to reconcile work and having kids and the
opportunity for advancement and promotion, whilst boys put earning potential highest on their agenda coupled with the
opportunity to learn new skills and spend lots of time organizing and planning. Males were 12% more likely than females
to rate ‘earning potential’ high on importance in their ideal job.
This finding confirms existing work demonstrating that boys rate material rewards higher than girls do. Girls on the
other hand rate social and life-style considerations higher than boys (e.g. Marini, Fan, Finley, & Beutal, 1996). It is
nonetheless apparent that boys also value the opportunity to reconcile work and kids, and that girls also value earning
potential, suggesting some convergence between them in the perceived value of both social and material job rewards
(Johnson & Mortimer, 2000).
Looking at what differs between boys and girls across all attributes:
Boys were less likely than girls to say they want a ‘girly job’ that involves meeting and being with other people, but
are more likely to say they want ‘a macho job’, one that involves working in a messy or dirty environment, and is
practical or hands-on.
Girls in turn, were more likely to subscribe to a ‘girly job’ that involves meeting lots of people, but less likely to
want a job that is ‘macho’, messy or dirty, and is practical or hands-on.
Further insights into what young people want from their jobs was gained from asking them to reflect openly on jobs
they have considered and then decided against (Table 4). 25% of those interviewed said they had decided against a job
because it would be too complex or demanding, and/or too difficult to get accepted into. Another 20% decided against
jobs because they felt they were no good at academic subjects relevant to the job or were better at subjects relevant
to a different job. Other reality checks on decisions were obtained from anticipating the job to be either less satisfying
or fulfilling than hoped or that there would be aspects of the job that would be particularly difficult to cope with.
Other less frequent mentions were low pay, safety considerations (arising in particular from having experienced a
family member being injured at work), being unable to visualise doing the job or going anywhere with it, and other more
idiosyncratic reasons. Almost a quarter of the sample said they didn’t know why they had decided against a particular
job and a small percentage said that they had simply changed their mind.
Girls were more likely than boys to report that the job would be too hard for them to get into or too difficult or
demanding. Boys however were more likely than girls to say that they discovered that they were better at doing other
Overall these findings suggest that young people are highly active in making decisions about what they want based on
what they know they can and cannot cope with, combined with knowledge of what they are good at. Consistent with this,
most of those interviewed (83%) said that no one had judged any particular job to be unsuitable for them; they had
made their own judgement.
Table 4. Reasons offered by young people for not pursuing previously considered jobs.
Reasons for not pursuing jobs
Frequency Boys (%) Girls (%)
Not good at it (e.g. “didn’t think I would be
good at it”, “poor grades”).
8% 6% 9%
Complex or demanding job/too hard to get in
(e.g. “difficulty getting in”, “complicated job”,
“stress”, “working shifts”).
25% 20% 32%
Boring/Won’t enjoy it/’reality check
(“boredom”, “some kids are irritating”, other
things more fun or active or exciting).
11% 9% 13%
Pay is too low 4% 5% 4%
Safety issues (e.g. “dad got injured”, “being
injured at work”)
Could not visualize doing it or going
anywhere with it
3% 5% 2%
Simple change of mind/unsure why 8% 8% 7%
Doing better at other things (“I’m doing well
in horse riding”)
13% 18% 6%
Personal reasons/inhibitions (“asthma”,
“criminal record”, “Not old enough”)
6% 8% 4%
Don’t know 22% 22% 22%
Of those who had been advised by others against certain jobs, most said that they had been warned off by the
‘academic’ requirements of a job, whilst others had been put off by references to the low status of certain jobs (e.g.
factory work). Two had been told that their job aspirations were too idealistic (e.g. professional football, acting).
Warnings from others – where applicable, were obtained from parents, teachers and also career advisers.
Girls were slightly more likely to report that a teacher had judged a job to be unsuitable for them than boys.
Unsuitability was explained in terms of being ‘ill-suited’ to the job because of over-ambition (e.g. ‘not smart enough’,
‘would not get the grades’, ‘dyslexic’), personal qualities (e.g. ‘I’m not patient enough’, ‘I don’t fit the spec’) or poor job
conditions (e.g. poor pay, rubbish job).
When invited to explain why they
definitely do not want to do
a particular job, almost 23% of interviewees were unclear
and 4% said it was not applicable to them. Of those who gave reasons, these were primarily job specific - i.e. negative
job conditions (e.g. ‘stressful’, ‘dangerous’, ‘dirty’) (29%) and features (e.g. ‘boring’, ‘bad pay’, ‘would get on my nerves’,
‘don’t like blood’) (19%), and demanding job requirements (e.g. ‘hard work’, ‘long hours’) (22%). Only 3% said that
parental/teacher disapproval was their reason for avoiding a particular job. Girls reported being more put off by
negative job conditions (dirty, dangerous) and features (e.g. boring, don’t like needles) than boys (girls 55%; boys 41%).
Boys (28%) were more likely to be unclear than girls (17%) about what puts them off.
A third of the interviewees were however surprisingly unsure about why they will probably end up doing a certain job
(Table 5). Those who did speculate were more likely to mention doing ‘
something in the area of
’ rather than citing
specific jobs. Reasons given for pursuing a particular job include fulfilling personal goals/ambition, being good at the
job, the intrinsic satisfaction from doing the job, and practicalities including geographical location and academic
achievements. Boys seemed more persuaded by the
practicalities of a particular job
than girls, and also being
demonstrably good at the job they choose to do. Girls in turn seemed more
goal or ambition oriented
than boys. This
finding echoes others that have likewise demonstrated a greater sensitivity of boys than girls to the
of jobs (pay and conditions) and of girls more than boys to the
intrinsically fulfilling (“making a difference”)
aspects of
jobs (e.g. Johnson & Mortimer, 2000).
Table 5. Reasons why young people say they will end up doing a certain job.
Reasons Provided Boys (%) Girls (%)
My aim/goals/ambition/instinct 9% 24%
Good at it/Can do it 19% 11%
fulfilling/love it
17% 22%
Practicalities (depends on GCSE’s, moving
to coast, where my Dad lives)
20% 7%
Family approval 2% 2%
Unsure 34% 33%
Simple change of mind/unsure why 8% 7%
Interviewees were also asked about the importance of pay to them. Of those who said that pay was unimportant
(overall=28%, males=26%, females=30%), the majority justified this with reference to the intrinsic fulfilment of the
job as being more important to them. A few also said that pay was simply no big deal for them. Of those who said that
pay was important to them (overall 72%, males=74%, females=70%), the majority explained this either in terms of
having to earn a basic living, the life style afforded by the money earned or simply money for money’s sake. Slightly
more boys than girls cited ‘life style’ needs as the reason why pay is important. 10 students didn’t know whether pay
was important to them or not. There was no significant difference between boys and girls in the importance of pay.
In the schools survey, 2,447 young people aged 14 to 16 years, responded to a question about the importance of pay
relative to job satisfaction. The majority of students (75%) agreed that ‘pay and job satisfaction are equally important”.
Only 8% agreed that ‘pay is more important than job satisfaction’. 17% however said that for them ‘job satisfaction is
more important than pay’. There were no overall gender differences in response to this question. However, looking at
the extremes of reply, more boys (13%) than girls (3%) agreed that pay is more important to them than job
satisfaction and significantly more girls (20%) than boys (14%) agreed that job satisfaction is more important to them
than pay. This suggests a tendency for boys to be
– if not significantly more sensitive to the material value of
jobs than girls, consistent with previous work (e.g. Marini, Fan, Finley, & Beutal, 1996). Overall however there is a
stronger endorsement among both boy and girls that pay and job satisfaction are equally important.
College students responded to the same question yielding percentages reported in Figure 7. By far the majority of
students across all courses said that job satisfaction and pay are equally important. Very small proportions of college
students (from 0% to 11%) said that pay is more important than job satisfaction. Those doing male-dominated courses
were slightly more likely (6%) than those doing female-dominated courses (3.5%) to say that pay is most important.
More sizeable proportions on the other hand said that job satisfaction is more important than pay, with those doing
female-dominated courses slightly more likely (24%) than those doing male-dominated courses (19%) to say this. Care
assistants were especially likely to say that job satisfaction is more important than pay (36%).
Figure 7. The Importance of Pay to College Students.
nursery nurses
care assistants
travel agents
car mechanics