Gender similarity or gender difference? Contemporary women's and men's career patterns.

Author:Whitmarsh, Lona
Position:Research - Report

Career development research has often explored gender differences in and development of career patterns (Gottfredson, 2006). Hyde's (2005) meta-analysis indicated that men and women shared more similarities than differences. Applying Hyde's gender similarities hypothesis to careers, the authors conducted a 2-stage study. Stage 1 was an analysis of career choices of couples (a socioeconomically and educationally advantaged group) announcing their wedding in the New York Times. Stage 2 was a comparison of a New York Times wedding cohort with a cohort from 11 other U.S. newspapers, examining national trends and exploring generalizability of the findings from Stage 1 of the study. Results revealed that there are shifting trends in career choices, most notably in the legal profession.

Keywords: gender differences, female career patterns

A very active area of career development research is the investigation of gender differences in career decision-making processes, both in initial career choices and in later career patterns (Fitzgerald, Fassinger, & Betz, 1995). Other key research areas include an examination of the critical influences during the developmental years, differences in experiences in chosen career paths, and identification of sociocultural perspectives accounting for men's and women's career pattern differences.

Correll (2001) observed that "sex segregation often emerges early in the path towards many careers ... as cultural conceptions of gender serve to constrain the early career-relevant choices of men and women" (p. 1692). Mothers' personality characteristics, educational status, and attachment style influence their daughters' early career planning (O'Brien & Fassinger, 1993; Rainey & Borders, 1997). A variety of researchers have found that women have been discouraged from choosing science and technology careers that are traditionally dominated by men because of a variety of psychosocial factors, including a lack of role models, a lack of career information, concerns about juggling career and family, sex-role stereotypes, and limited psychosocial support (Betz, 1994; Fitzgerald & Harmon, 2001; Luzzo & McWhirter, 2001).

A number of recent studies have shown that women with higher socioeconomic status viewed work as a source of personal satisfaction and experienced high levels of career adaptability (Blustein et al., 2002). Research that offers a deeper understanding of how gender and social class intersect with career choices of higher socioeconomic populations is lacking, however. It has been found that women's career choices continue to reflect lower levels of aspiration, educational attainment, and achievement with the central priority being given to fitting career around family responsibilities (Betz, 1994; Kaufman, 1995; Leung, Conolcy, & School, 1994; Whitmarsh, Brown, Cooper, Hawkins-Rodgers, & Wentworth, 2007).

Cook, Heppner, and O'Brien (2002) stated that career development theory reflects the worldvicw of men that includes separation of work and family roles, a linear career trajectory; centrality of work for personal worth, and the primary values of individualism and autonomy. I,. S.Gottfredson's (2006) theory of circumscription and compromise stresses gender appropriateness and status as the dynamic influences in career decision making. She suggested that throughout childhood, gender identity schemas shape and restrict occupational preferences, inducing conformity to careers perceived as gender appropriate. Adolescents develop an idea of attainable occupational choices that fit with their gender and class.

Using the well-known Holland (1997) typology of career interests, many researchers have studied gender differences in careers selected by men in comparison to those selected by women. Reardon, Bullock, and Meyer (2007) examined census data over the past 5 decades and found that women were employed in a broader range of careers, including those with Conventional., Realistic, Social, and Enterprising interests, whereas men were more concentrated in Realistic and Enterprising careers. The percentage of women in the Social typology remained constant and high over the decades, whereas women's employment in Enterprising careers has grown substantially, particularly in the last 2 decades. Su, Rounds and Armstrong (2009) cited Thorndike's (1911, p. 32) statement that the greatest difference between men and women is "in the relative strength of the interest in things and their mechanisms (stronger in men) and the interests in persons and their feelings (stronger in women)." In a recent meta-analysis, Su et al. found that men had stronger Realistic and Investigative interests; women, on the other hand, were stronger in Artistic, Social, and Conventional interests. The largest gender difference emerged in the Realistic and Social typologies, echoing Thorndike's earlier observation and confirming the results of Reardon, Bullock, and Meyer's (2007) examination of census data.

The aforementioned career development research demonstrates a focus on gender differences. However, in her meta-analysis of gender differences research, Hyde (2005) identified the "fascination with psychological gender differences" (p. 581) but found significant gender differences only in motor performance, measures of sexuality, and physical aggression. According to Hyde (2005),

It is time to consider the costs of overinflated claims offender differences. Arguably, they cause harm in numerous realms, including women's opportunities in the workplace, couples conflict and communication, and analyses of self-esteem problems in adolescents. Most important, these claims are not consistent with the scientific data. (p. 590) In addition to gender schema influences, Schulenberg, Vondraeek, and Crouter1984) stated, "if one were permitted only a single variable with which to predict an individual's occupational status, it surely would be the socioeconomic status of that individual's family of orientation" (p. 130). Langston's (2001) research found that the social class of an individual's family of origin has the power to affect chosen occupations, education, and social class status in adulthood. Lapour and Heppner (2009) explored the intersection of gender and social class influence "by examining perceived career options among a little-studied slice of the population--adolescent young women who have experienced social class privilege" (p. 477). They noted that "social class remains a taboo subject" (p. 493).

In an attempt to continue the exploration process defined by Lapour and Heppner (2009) regarding the relationship between gender and social class, our approach examined career patterns of men and women who were beginning their married lives while quasi-controlling for socioeconomic class in some of our samples. We conducted our research in two stages. The first stage comprised couples who posted their wedding announcements in the New York Times (NYT). A number of previous studies have used the NYT for their database, albeit for the purpose of examining women's choices of their marital name (e.g., Goldin & Shim, 2004; Hoffnung, 2006; Kopelman, Shea-Van Fossen, Paraskevas, Lawter, & Prottas, 2009). A statistical picture of NYT's readership found that "they are nearly three times as likely as the average U.S. adult to have a college or postgraduate degree and more than twice as likely to hold a professional or managerial position ... more than twice as likely as the average U.S. adult to have an annual household income exceeding $100,000" (Calame, 2005). We chose this population of men and women with fewer educational and socioeconomic restrictions because they have more opportunities for career choices and possibly can provide a more contemporary lens for viewing career development. We believed these analyses would extend research findings about gender differences and/or similarities outside of the typical college age or younger samples so often used (e.g., Heckert et al., 2002; Lapour & Heppner, 2009). Additionally, by using NTT samples, we quasi-controlled socioeconomic differences, thereby allowing the focus to be on gender as the variable shaping career choice.

The second phase of our research compared a NYT sample with a geographically diverse sample (II U.S. cities) to explore the generalizability of the initial findings beyond the New York City metropolitan area and to a more varied population in terms of education and socioeconomic level. By including both samples, our results have applicability to a wider range of the U.S. population. We proposed three hypotheses for both studies. Our first two hypotheses were formulated to examine how men and women's careers in our samples compared to national statistics. Our third hypothesis was designed to directly compare women's and men's current career choices.

Hypothesis I stated that the career choices of men and women in our samples will be similar to the general U.S. population (as determined by Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS; U.S. Department of Labor, n.d.-a, n.d.-d) data in various careers dominated by men or women). Although we recognize that career opportunities for women have widened, we believe that not enough change has occurred to show significant differences between the overall U.S. population and our samples. Hypothesis 2 states that women in our samples will be in fewer careers dominated by women than women in the general U.S. population (as determined by BLS statistics; U.S. Department of Labor, n.d.-a, n.d.-d). Hypothesis 3 states that men and women in these samples will not differ significantly from each other in their career choices.

General Method

We downloaded wedding announcements from the website and recorded job titles for the bride and groom. If no job title was listed, that couple was not included in the study. Job titles were missing in less than 5% of the announcements. Because this was an archival study, no informed...

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