Swimming against the tide: an investigation of student career aspirations for non-traditional careers

Year: 2017

Author: Holmes, Kathryn, Berger, Nathan, Geardise, Anne, Gore, Jennifer

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Studies of school students' career aspirations point to gender as a significant determinant of interest in particular occupations (Gore et al., 2017). Generally, these studies find that girls are more likely to express interest in 'female' professions such as nursing and teaching, while boys are more likely to pursue 'male' dominated professions such as those in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These gendered patterns have remained relatively stable over time despite programs designed to encourage girls to consider non-traditional areas of study (Hadjar & Aeschlimann, 2015). In this paper we draw on data from the Aspirations Longitudinal Study (Gore et al., 2015) to examine the characteristics of students who are interested in non-traditional careers in relation to their gender. We use Gottfredson's (1981) theory of circumscription and compromise to frame our analysis. By building the evidence base to better understand the motivations and characteristics of those who aspire to non-traditional careers, we contend that careers education can be designed to challenge traditional stereotypes, thereby opening up a larger suite of possible futures for all students.

In our sample, 9098 surveys were completed by students in Years 3 to 12, with 4470 completed by males and 4628 by females. Only 678 of the female survey responses indicated an interest in careers which could be classified as 'male-dominated'. Further only 298 of the male survey responses revealed an interest in 'female-dominated' careers. Classifications were based on Bagilhole's (2002) categorization of non-traditional careers. We report on the demographic characteristics of these students and examine the reasons given for their choices drawing on open-ended survey responses and focus group data. Discussion will address the students' reasons for their non-traditional career choices and will inform recommendations for careers advisors in schools to challenge the enduring reproduction of gendered career aspirations.