Girls like pink: explaining sex-typed occupational aspirations amongst young children

Publication type

Research Paper

Series Number



IMDEA Working Paper Series in Economics and Social Sciences


Publication date

June 1, 2010


There is a high degree of sex-typing in young children‘s occupational aspirations and this has
consequences for subsequent occupational segregation. Sociologists typically attribute early sex differences
in occupational preferences to gender socialization. Yet we still know surprisingly little
about the mechanisms involved in the intergenerational transmission of sex-typical preferences and
there is considerable theoretical controversy regarding the role of individual agency in the process
of preference formation. This study analyzes the determinants of sex-typed occupational aspirations
amongst British children aged between 11 and 15. We specify different mechanisms involved in the
transmission of sex-typical preferences and propose an innovative definition of individual agency
that is anchored in observable psychological traits linked to self-direction. This allows us to perform
a simultaneous test of socialization and agency predictors of occupational sex-typing. We find that
parental influences on occupational preferences operate mainly through three distinctive channels:
1) the effect that parental socio-economic resources have on the scope of children‘s occupational
aspirations, 2) children‘s direct imitation of parental occupations, and 3) children‘s learning of sextyped
roles via the observation of parental behavior. We also find a strong net effect of children‘s
own psychological predispositions —self-esteem in particular— on the incidence of sex-typical
occupational preferences. Yet large differences in the occupational aspirations of girls and boys
remain unexplained.




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