Gendered Motivations For Career Choice Through Upper Secondary School

Year: 2015

Author: Watt, Helen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Gender differences in career plans continue to fuel the concern of researchers with interest in gender equity. Many have argued girls prematurely restrict their options by discontinuing certain subjects in adolescence, having ramifications for women’s wellbeing from economic and psychological perspectives. Much research has concentrated on whether and how girls/boys are differently motivated in particular learning domains, towards different career aspirations, and how features of the learning environment can promote or diminish their motivations. I use these frames to examine boys’/girls’ motivations in particular subjects; how motivations matter differently for girls/boys; in directing them towards particular purposes and aspirations; and as they are influenced by features of their learning environments.
A question commonly posed is whether girls actually want high salary or status careers. Where is the problem, if girls and boys are inclined on the basis of different ability beliefs and values, towards different types of pathways? Should similar participation at school and in the workforce in sex-stereotyped domains be our goal? To directly examine girls’/boys’ career motivations, we developed the theoretically comprehensive and psychometrically validated Motivations for Career Choice scale (MCC; Watt & Richardson, 2006) to meet the need for an explicit, theoretically based measure of career motivations. The MCC includes factors related to social influences, prior experiences, task demands and returns, interpersonal working environment, self-perceptions of abilities, and values (intrinsic, social utility, and personal utility values). My recently surveyed contemporary sample of 1172 grade 10 adolescents from nine middle/upper-middle class Australian schools (, surveyed again grade 12 two years later, revealed gender differences on 7 of the 17 career motivations.
Most important career motivators for girls and boys were interest, ability and salary; least important were wanting an easy job, social influences and the desire to work with youth. There were no gender differences for motivations related to own abilities, cognitive challenge, prior experiences, salary, status, family-flexibility, autonomy, teamwork, portability, or secure progression prospects. This clearly signals that girls do not prefer lower salary or lower status careers. Boys were significantly more motivated than girls by social influences, to pursue an expert career, and for an easy job. Girls were more motivated than boys by their interests, to make a social contribution, enhance social equity, and work with youth. These differences appear consistent with previous findings that girls and women are more interested in “Social” occupations that allow them to socially contribute and help others.
Presenting author short biography
Helen M. G. Watt, PhD, is Associate Professor in Education at Monash University, and Australian Research Council Research Fellow 2011-2015. Previously she served at the University of Michigan, University of Western Sydney, University of Sydney, and Macquarie University. Her interests include motivation, gendered educational and occupational choices, motivations for teaching, and longitudinal studies. Her work has implications for redressing the gender imbalance in mathematics- and science-related careers, and supporting the development of beginning teachers. She has received national and international research awards, attracted external funding, and co-edited books and special issues including Gender and Occupational Outcomes; Understanding Women’s Choice of Mathematics- and Science-Related Careers; and Motivation for Teaching.