Universal sex differences appear in adolescence

photo: David Geary
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Credit: University of Missouri

New analysis by David Geary of the University of Missouri and Gijsbert Stoet of the University of Essex in the UK finds that the career aspirations of nearly 500,000 teenagers show consistent gender differences across 80 countries, suggesting that biologically influenced preferences may play a role in gender segregation. in the workplace later in life. The researchers also found a tendency for greater differences to appear in countries with gender equality, such as Finland, Norway or Sweden.

“Gender differences in career choices and outcomes are often blamed on social factors, such as stereotypes and biases,” Geary, professor emeritus of psychological sciences, told the Conservatives. MU College of Arts and Sciences. “Our study shows that many of these differences are universal and greater in egalitarian societies, suggesting that there are biological influences on people’s career preferences.”

Geary said this study confirms what researchers call a “gender equality paradox,” or when increased levels of gender equality in a country lead to greater gender differences, such as in aspirations. professionals.

“Gender differences in interest in things and people-oriented occupations were not only found worldwide, but mirrored those found in a study over 100 years ago,” said Geary. “The results are consistent over time and space, consistent with inherent sex differences that make some activities more appealing to adolescents than girls and others more appealing to girls than boys.”

Using data from the 2018 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the analysis showed that more boys than girls in every country – a ratio of around 4 to 1 – wanted to work in ‘thing-oriented’ occupations, such as carpenter, engineer or mechanic, while more girls than boys – a ratio of about 3 to 1 – wanted a ‘people-oriented’ occupation, such as a doctor or teacher.

For example, in the United States and the United Kingdom, researchers found that more than five boys for every girl aspired to a thing-oriented profession. This ratio was even higher in Sweden, where more than seven boys for every Finnish girl aspired to a thing-oriented profession. In contrast, in countries like Morocco or the United Arab Emirates, where women are less empowered in politics, education or health, the ratios were generally lower, around two boys for every girl. .

“Teenage boys and teenage girls differ significantly in what they expect to be working on around the age of 30,” said Stoet, professor of psychology at the University of Essex. “The effects are greatest in countries where most people expect the smallest differences. Their choices likely reflect deep-seated trends we see around the world, but express them most strongly in countries where adolescents are least constrained by economic limitations.

Gender differences in adolescent career aspirations: variations over time and spacewas published in PLOS ONEone of the world’s leading peer-reviewed journals focused on science and medicine.

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