UFAE and IAE Working Papers
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 sexdifferences 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.