Girls are setting career sights higher

September 15, 2000

Teenage girls' career choices have become more ambitious since the 1980s, according to new research by the University of Greenwich.

The study, which analysed 50 boys and 50 girls aged 14-16, found that rather than opting for a narrow range of stereotypically feminine careers, girls were aspiring to jobs traditionally performed by men.

Their choices included banker, businessperson, computer scientist, soldier and mathematician. But the most popular choices - doctor and solicitor - showed that girls are becoming increasingly interested in the professions.

Becky Francis, who carried out the research, said: "This represents a massive shift from 20 years ago."

More than half the girls in the study chose jobs that normally require a degree. Boys' aspirations were similarly high, suggesting, according to Ms Francis, that boys' comparative underperformance at secondary school can not be explained by a lack of career ambition. However, the boys in the study were more conservative in their career choices and less likely to transgress gender stereotypes. The most popular career choice among the boys was professional football.

Despite the trends, Ms Francis found a continuing "gender dichotomy" in the students' choices, with a tendency for girls to opt for creative or caring jobs while boys opted for scientific or technical professions. Only two boys in the study chose jobs traditionally performed by women.

Studies in the 1980s found that girls expected to work only until they were married. They then expected to cease paid work in order to become housewives and mothers, or to assume the role of secondary breadwinner. The new findings suggest that girls now see their chosen profession as reflecting their identity, and since many more girls chose professional jobs requiring high qualifications, they did not view work as a stopgap before marriage.

Ms Francis said the raised aspirations of girls could be explained by various economic and social changes that have had a strong impact on gender roles. Equal opportunities programmes and an increase in role models for girls in the labour market have had a profound impact. Another factor was the "new materialism and realism", resulting from the increasing divorce rate and the rising number of single-parent families. At the same time, the fact that in two-parent families it is more usual for both parents to work full time seems to have had an impact on girls' expectations.

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