Gender differences study shows gaps in occupational interests

By Madalyn Velisaris, Staff Writer

A University study on gender differences in occupational interests may help pinpoint when to introduce gender diversity programs in schools, to increase female involvement in male-dominated fields.

“If you were to give kids an interest inventory when they are 10 or 11 years old, and then again when they’re 14, interests tend to become more gendered over that time,” said Kevin Hoff, first author of the study and doctoral student in psychology.

More than 20,000 people participated in a meta-analysis of 49 longitudinal studies on occupational interests. The study shows interest tends to decrease around the time of early adolescence, but increase in later adolescence. 

“Over the course of the lifespan, the biggest gender differences are in early adolescence, so kids are in sixth, seventh and eighth grade. And then after that period, they tend to kind of decrease gradually, but not necessarily cross over, so there are still going to be gender differences throughout the lifespan,” Hoff said.

The decrease in gender differences concerning occupational interests during later adolescence is because people are experiencing more events and relationships, said James Rounds, second author of the study and professor in educational psychology.

“For men, what happens is that sooner or later, they get involved with relationships. And these relationships mean they may have a family, and they may have kids, and they also have to work in a context with other people,” Rounds said. “So partly what I think we are seeing here is that men are starting to become much more interested in people, and we think that has to do with the roles that they play.”

Inversely, women tend to develop occupational interests in things that are not socially-oriented.

“I’ve definitely run into some girls that have expressed interest in learning computer science; however, a lot of it is the time and feeling like it was too late to join in on that, but it is really not,” said Ema Milojkovic, sophomore in Engineering.

When Milojkovic helped organize a Girls Who Code club in high school, many senior students in stages of later adolescence were interested in joining. 

Although there may still be gender disparity in certain majors and vocational interests, there is a presence of female communities within stereotypically male-dominated majors, she said.

“I’m in computer science and it is very male-dominated. That being said, I do have a community of girls … which is awesome, and all the girls there are super friendly. But looking around a classroom, I notice that there aren’t many girls around me,” she said.

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