Sex-role stereotyping in fifth grade students: a qualitative study of occupational preference

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Virginia Tech


The discovery of the variables that impact on the career aspirations of children is important in the development of effective programs and interventions. These variables can also serve as a basis to provide equal opportunities and to promote diversity in the work place.

This study was driven by three primary areas of investigation. First, it sought to discover the perceived gender characteristics of selected occupations held by a group of children. Second, it sought to investigate in what ways the occupational patterns within the families of these children related to their perceptions of occupational gender characteristics. Third, it sought to explore in what ways the occupational preferences of these children related to their perceptions of occupational gender characteristics. A qualitative research design using multiple-case studies was utilized.

Participants were selected from a pool of 76 fifth-grade students from a suburban elementary school. A purposive sample of 11 boys and 10 girls was selected from this pool for in-depth study. A structured interview schedule was the main source of data collection. Data analysis was based on the tenets of the grounded theory approach.

This study revealed that these children assigned gender characteristics to occupations based on their underlying views of the meaning and character of femininity and masculinity. The occupational patterns in the families of these children were traditionally sex-typed and the boys perpetuated that pattern by selecting traditional occupations for themselves. The boys selected occupations which were congruent with their views of masculinity. Several of the girls broke away from the traditional sex-typed occupations of their mothers and aspired to nontraditional occupations. The girls who broke the traditional patterns were cognizant of the dominant social views and practices regarding gender-appropriate occupations. Nonetheless, they were undeterred in stating their aspirations of traditionally male occupations.