MISSOURI – While most of us think the impact of gender on our career choices has to do with social prejudices, a new study suggests biology might be at play in this. The conclusion of this study was that across geographies and cultures, more men tended to choose things-oriented careers while more women opt for people-oriented careers. 

The research was conducted jointly by David Geary from University of Missouri, USA and Gijsbert Stoet from University of Essex, UK. It analysed the career aspirations of almost 500,000 teenagers from 80 countries to conclude the experience of gender equality paradox, suggesting that gender segregation may have more biological basis than previously thought. The findings were published recently in the online peer reviewed journal PLOS ONE. 

The findings were based on the analysis of data from the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Most surprisingly, the findings mirrored the conditions mentioned in a similar study conducted in 1918. The ratio of boys versus girls who liked to follow things-oriented careers (carpenter, engineer, mechanic) was 4:1, while that for people-oriented careers (doctor, teacher) was 1:3. 

“We analyzed student career aspirations in combination with student achievement in mathematics, reading, and science, as well as parental occupations and family wealth,” explained the researchers. In each country and region, they found more boys to be interested in things-oriented or STEM occupations, while more girls were inclined towards a people-oriented occupation. 

Even in countries that are thought to be gender balanced, these sex differences were observed. In fact, they were larger in countries with a higher level of women’s empowerment. In both UK and USA, the proportion of boys choosing things-oriented occupantions was 5:1. In the Nordic countries, this ratio was found to be 7:1, while it was 2:1 in countries like Morocco and United Arab Emirates.

“We explain this counterintuitive finding through the indirect effect of wealth. Women’s empowerment is associated with relatively high levels of national wealth and this wealth allows more students to aspire to occupations they are intrinsically interested in,” elaborated the researchers. 

“Sex differences in career choices and outcomes are often blamed on social factors, such as stereotypes and bias. Our study shows that many of these differences are universal and larger in equalitarian societies, suggesting there are biological influences on peoples’ occupational preferences,” summed Geary, Curators Distinguished Professor of Psychological Sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science.