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Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 79, 346–363 (2001)

doi:10.1006/jecp.2000.2611, available online at http://www.idealibrary.com on

Pink and Blue Collar Jobs: Children’s Judgments

of Job Status and Job Aspirations
in Relation to Sex of Worker

Lynn S. Liben

The Pennsylvania State University

Rebecca S. Bigler

The University of Texas


Holleen R. Krogh

The Pennsylvania State University

Past work shows that even young children know that occupations are differentially
linked to men and women in our society. In our research, we studied whether 6- and 11-
year-old children’s (a) beliefs about job status and (b) job interests would be affected by
the gendered nature of jobs. When asked about familiar occupations, children gave higher
status ratings to masculine jobs and expressed greater interest in jobs culturally associated
with their own sex. To circumvent the extant confounds between job gender and job status
in our culture, we also developed a new methodology in which novel jobs were portrayed
with either male or female workers. Older children rated novel jobs portrayed with male
workers as having higher status than the identical jobs portrayed with female workers.
Portrayal sex had no effect on children’s own interests in these novel jobs at either age.
Methodological, theoretical, and educational issues are discussed in relation to sex-role
development and vocational aspirations. © 2001 Academic Press
Key Words: occupational status; gender stereotyping; sex-role development; vocational
education; childhood; jobs; vocational aspirations.

Holleen Krogh is now at Mississippi University for Women. We deeply appreciate the expert help
of Steven Bigler in preparing the drawings for this research; the dedicated work of Lecianna Jones,
Sydell Payne, and Gina Toumi for their roles in collecting, coding, and entering data; and the gener-
ous cooperation of the director, staff, parents, and children of the Doss and Davis Community
Schools for their willingness to participate in this project. We also thank three anonymous reviewers
for their helpful suggestions.
Address correspondence and reprint requests to Lynn S. Liben, Department of Psychology, The
Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802. E-mail: liben@psu.edu.

0022-0965/01 $35.00
Copyright © 2001 by Academic Press
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.

Whether a child is male or female is a powerful variable for predicting out-

comes in many arenas of development. Although the reasons for the importance
of being male or female are topics for heated debate (e.g., see Bem, 1983, 1993;
Buss, 1995; Casey, 1996; Cosmides & Tooby, 1994; Eagly, 1995; Hyde & Plant,
1995; Unger, 1993), the descriptive fact that sex-related differences exist is
uncontroversial. At least at the level of group analysis, boys and girls differ in
play patterns, peer choices, and countless other behaviors (e.g., Golombok &
Fivush, 1994; Halpern, 1992; Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974; Ruble & Martin, 1998).
Among the arenas in which sex differences persist is the world of work.
What influences children’s career beliefs and aspirations? One important fac-
tor is the cultural-gender stereotype of the occupation. Developmental research
shows that children learn cultural-gender stereotypes of many jobs by the time
they start school (e.g., Franken, 1983; Kuhn, Nash, & Brucken, 1978; Signorella,
Bigler, & Liben, 1993). Furthermore, boys tend to aspire to jobs that are tradi-
tionally stereotyped by the culture as masculine, and girls tend to aspire to jobs
that have been traditionally stereotyped as feminine (e.g., Franken, 1983; McGee
& Stockard, 1991; Sellers, Satcher, & Comas, 1999). A second important factor
may be the perceived status of the occupation. There is evidence that both adults’
and children’s occupational interests are affected by job status (e.g., Lipton,
O’Connor, Terry, & Bellamy, 1991; Stockard & McGee, 1990).
More important, these two factors are not entirely independent: There is a cor-
relation between the extent to which jobs are culturally viewed as masculine or
the degree to which they are dominated by male workers, and the level of status
and pay the jobs are accorded. This link makes it difficult to test the role of each
factor separately. For example, in work by McGee and Stockard (1991) designed
to study children’s knowledge of occupational characteristics, jobs were selected
by the investigators to represent varying levels of prestige. However, jobs select-
ed to represent high prestige also tended to be more closely associated with men.
Some investigators have studied the link between prestige and gender directly.
College students are found to rate occupations such as physician, lawyer, nuclear
engineer, architect, and police chief—all of which are viewed as masculine and
are traditionally dominated by males—as high in prestige, whereas they rate
teacher, social worker, flight attendant, model, and telephone operator—cultural-
ly feminine and traditionally dominated by females—as moderate or low in pres-
tige (e.g., Parker, Chan, & Saper, 1989; Parker, Cunningham, et al., 1995). Data
shows that prestige ratings given to male-dominated jobs range from low to high,
whereas those given to female-dominated jobs tend to fall within the low and
medium, but not high, prestige categories (see Parker, Cunningham, et al., 1989).
Thus, the majority of jobs accorded high prestige in this culture are male-domi-
nated. Even within categories of jobs (e.g., professional jobs; nonprofessional
jobs), undergraduate students rate male-dominated jobs as more prestigious than
female-dominated jobs (Beyard-Tyler & Haring, 1984).
Of course, these correlations might reflect an influence stemming from either
direction. That is, it is possible that greater prestige is accorded to certain occupa-
tions because they are generally performed by males who themselves have higher

societal status. Alternatively, it may be that occupations inherently higher in status

are more likely to be filled by men, perhaps because men seek higher status jobs
than do women, and/or because women are denied access to higher status jobs.
The notion that the sex distribution of the work force affects (rather than mere-
ly reflects) interest or prestige ratings is given credence by findings reported by
Touhey (1974a, 1974b). College students were asked to rate the prestige of jobs
that were described as having either stable or changing proportions of men and
women. When the proportion of women was said to be increasing in previously
prestigious, male-dominated jobs, the status ratings were lower than when the
ratio of men to women was described as stable (Touhey, 1974a). Similarly, when
culturally feminine jobs were described as attracting increasing proportions of
men, status ratings were higher than when proportions were said to be stable
(Touhey, 1974b).
Interestingly, a concern about the consequences of changing distributions of
men and women in occupations has been particularly salient within the discipline
of psychology because the proportion of women Ph.D. recipients has risen dur-
ing the last half-century from about 15% to almost 70% (U.S. Department of
Education, 2000). In response to an expressed concern that the “feminization” of
psychology might reduce prestige and pay for all members of the profession, the
Board of Directors of the American Psychological Association appointed a “Task
Force on the Changing Gender Composition of Psychology” (Kohout &
Williams, 1999). While the Task Force concluded that the increasing proportion
of women in psychology is unlikely to account for reductions in status and pay,
it also acknowledged the limitations in the correlational nature of their “case
study” approach (American Psychological Association, 1995). This report high-
lighted the need for experimental work in this area. In addition, we know little
about the developmental pathways of children’s beliefs about job status and inter-
est in relation to these variables.
We thus designed our study to investigate the role of gender in children’s
beliefs about job status, children’s own interests in jobs, and the relation between
children’s personal endorsement of cultural-gender stereotyping and their ratings
of job status and interest. We explored these issues in children in early and mid-
dle childhood (6–8 years and 11–12 years, respectively) because this covers a
period in which children have considerable knowledge of occupations as well as
variation in individual endorsement of cultural-gender stereotypes (e.g., Garrett,
Ein, & Tremaine, 1977; McGee & Stockard, 1991; Signorella, 1987). More
important, the older end of our sample marks the age at which children begin to
make decisions about course enrollment that affect later career options (e.g.,
Eccles, Wigfield, & Schiefele, 1998).
More specifically, the primary purpose of our research was to investigate
whether children in early and middle childhood believe that occupations per-
formed by men have higher status than occupations performed by women. We
approached this question in two ways.
First, we asked children to judge the status of familiar occupations. Our
research on familiar occupations was aimed primarily at replicating prior research

on children’s beliefs about job status (see especially McGee & Stockard, 1991),
deemed useful because of the relative paucity of prior developmental research on
this topic. In addition, contemporary data collection on familiar occupations was
judged to be important given continuing changes in the distributions of men and
women who hold various jobs.
Second, we devised a new, experimental methodology to permit us to assess the
independent contribution of workers’ sex on children’s judgments about job status.
Children were shown pictures of workers performing jobs that they had not encoun-
tered prior to the experimental session. We manipulated (between subjects) whether
each novel job was portrayed with male or female workers and then asked children
for their status judgments. Because the portrayals were identical except for worker
sex, any differences in status ratings must be attributed to children’s assigning dif-
fering degrees of status on the basis of worker sex, rather than on the basis of job
qualities. This methodology thus avoids the confounds between cultural job status
and cultural job gender that are inherent in research using familiar jobs.
Another aim of the current work was to provide data concerning children’s own
interests in jobs in relation to cultural stereotypes of occupations and worker sex.
As was the case for ratings of job status, we obtained ratings of children’s inter-
ests in both familiar and novel jobs. Again, because we counterbalanced whether
novel jobs were portrayed with male or female workers, we could test whether
association of jobs with males or females—apart from characteristics of the jobs
themselves—affected children’s own job interests.
Finally, we examined whether the hypothesized gender effects on children’s
perceptions of job status and job interests would differ in conjunction with indi-
vidual differences in children’s endorsement of cultural gender stereotypes. More
specifically, we considered the possibility that the child’s own career goals would
be mediated by the child’s own endorsement of cultural gender stereotypes. For
example, consider a boy who endorses the view that men are suited to perform
different (and more difficult) occupations than women. When this boy encounters
an occupation performed by women, he will decide that this occupation is rela-
tively low in status and not appropriate for him. Alternatively, a boy who endors-
es the view that men and women are suited to perform identical and hence equiv-
alent occupations has no reason either to downgrade the status of a job performed
by a woman, or to rule it out for himself. We studied the role of individual gen-
der attitudes in only the younger age group because constraints on testing times
prevented us from administering an attitude measure to the older children.


Participants and Procedural Overview

Participants were recruited from public elementary schools serving predomi-
nately white, middle-class populations in Austin, Texas. Permission letters were
distributed, and those children whose parents returned signed permission slips,
and who themselves agreed to participate, were included in the study. The final
sample included 64 children aged 6 to 8 years of age (30 girls and 34 boys, mean

age 6 years, 10 months) and 65 children aged 11 to 12 years (33 girls and 32 boys,
mean age 11 years, 10 months).
Children in the younger age group were interviewed individually by one of two
female interviewers in a quiet room near their regular classroom. In a first session,
children were asked questions designed to assess perceptions of occupational status
and their own interest in performing various occupations. In a second session, they
were given a measure designed to assess individual differences in endorsement of
cultural gender stereotypes about occupations. Because this stereotype measure
explicitly identifies sex as the relevant variable, it was always given second to avoid
priming children to attend to gender in the status and interest measures.
Children in the older age sample were tested in groups of 15 to 20 children.
The experimenter read each item from the status and interest measures aloud, and
students marked their responses in test booklets. As noted earlier, the school’s
constraints precluded administration of the stereotype endorsement measure to
the older children, and thus for these children, testing ended after the occupa-
tional status and interest measures had been completed.

Occupational Materials
Children were asked questions (a) about job status and (b) about their own inter-
est in a total of 37 jobs. Of these, 25 were familiar occupations drawn from previ-
ous studies of occupational stereotyping (e.g., Archer, 1984; Bigler & Liben, 1990;
Gasser, Oliver, & Tan, 1998; Martin, Wood, & Little, 1990), and included 10 cul-
turally masculine, 10 culturally feminine, and 5 culturally neutral items (see
Appendix). Despite the fact that there has been increasing gender balance in many
of these jobs over the last decade, research has repeatedly demonstrated that these
jobs continue to be viewed as differentially masculine or feminine by both adults
and children (e.g., see Helwig, 1998; Phillips & Imhoff, 1997; Signorella, 1999).
The remaining 12 were novel occupations, that is, occupations about which chil-
dren could be expected to have no previous knowledge. Of these, 6 were obscure
job titles (such as “higgler”) that earlier testing had shown were unknown to vir-
tually all children (and even to most adults). The remaining 6 were newly coined
job titles that were developed explicitly for the current research. These titles were
used to label some work activity for which no specific job title exists in our cul-
ture. Job titles and job descriptions for the 12 novel occupations are also given in
the Appendix.1 These 12 novel occupations were used to permit experimental
manipulation of the portrayal of jobs as performed by men or women.
At the beginning of the interview, children were told that we were interested in
learning “what children think about different jobs.” Children were also told that
we knew that some of the jobs were unfamiliar to most children, and thus that we
would explain these jobs. At the time that each novel occupation was encoun-
tered, children were read a standard job description (see Appendix). The descrip-
tion was accompanied by a card (for younger children) or slide (for older chil-
dren) containing four black-and-white line drawings of individuals performing

Drawings are available on IDEAL (http://www.idealibrary.com).

FIG. 1. Illustrations used in explaining the job of Cilpster under masculine (top) and feminine (bot-
tom) portrayal conditions.

the job. As illustrated in Fig. 1, two versions of each picture set were prepared,
one of which showed only men performing the job, the other showing only
women. The portrayal of jobs as performed by men versus women was counter-
balanced across participants, so that each job was portrayed in both masculine
and feminine forms across participants, and each child saw one-half the novel
jobs portrayed with men and one-half portrayed with women.
Job descriptions were also prepared for all of the familiar jobs and read to the
child whenever the child appeared confused or asked a question about the job. For
younger children, this procedure was typically necessary once or twice per child,
most often for the jobs of bank teller, dental assistant, and business executive. For
older children, no descriptions for familiar jobs were needed. Familiar and novel
occupations were intermingled, using a single randomly determined order for all
children. Neutral familiar occupations were also dispersed throughout the list. As
in past research, these items were included to provide a context for questions
about the culturally masculine and feminine items, and to check that participants
were using the response options appropriately. As expected, responses to neutral
items fell between those given to masculine and feminine items and showed that
participants understood how to use the response options. Thus, data from neutral
items are not discussed further.

Occupational Status and Interest Measures

To assess children’s ratings of occupational status, participants were asked four
questions about each of the 37 jobs in the following order: (1) “How hard do you
think it is to learn to be a(n) ?”; (2) “How hard do you think it is to do the
job of being a(n) every day?”; (3) “How much money do you think a(n)
gets paid?”; (4) “How important is the job of being a(n) ?”
Children responded using a 5-point scale in which response options were explic-
itly given as (1) none or not at all, (2) a little or a little bit, (3) medium or a medi-
um amount, (4) pretty or pretty much, and (5) very or very much. For younger
children, the options were accompanied by a graphic aid in which thermometers
indicated increasing levels of mercury to depict the options.
To assess children’s own interest in each of the 37 occupations, participants
were asked “How much would you like to be a(n) ?” Participants respond-
ed using a 5-point scale, ranging from (1) not at all to (5) very much, again sup-
plemented by the graphic aid of thermometers for the younger children.

Endorsement of Cultural-Gender Stereotypes of Occupations

To assess children’s endorsement of occupational stereotypes in our culture,
children in the younger age group were seen in a second session 3 to 7 days fol-
lowing the initial session. For each of the 25 familiar occupations described ear-
lier, children were asked “Who do you think should do each of these jobs?”
Response options included “only men,” “only women,” and “both men and
women.” The use of the word “should” and the inclusion of the “both” response
option follow the methodological guidelines for assessing attitudes (as opposed
to knowledge) outlined by Signorella et al. (1993).

We present results in the following four major sections, covering, respectively,
status ratings of familiar occupations; status ratings of novel occupations; chil-
dren’s own interests in familiar and novel jobs, and, finally, data on individual dif-
ferences in gender attitudes.

Familiar Occupations: Status Ratings

Four questions were used to assess children’s beliefs about job status, specifi-
cally, questions about each job’s difficulty to learn, difficulty to perform, pay, and
importance. As a preliminary analysis, we began by examining correlations
between all pairs of questions. As expected, all pairs were significantly correlated
(all p’s ⬍ .001). Thus, we averaged responses to each of the four questions to cre-
ate a composite status score that yielded a high Cronbach’s alpha (.80). This com-
posite status score then served as the dependent measure in an analysis of variance
(ANOVA) in which the between-subjects factors were age (younger, older) and
participant sex (boys, girls), and the within-subjects factor was the cultural stereo-
type of the job (whether the job is viewed in the culture as masculine or feminine).
Table 1 presents means and standard deviations for status ratings of familiar mas-
culine- and feminine-stereotyped jobs, broken down by participant age and sex.
Analyses revealed a significant interaction of participant age and cultural
stereotype of job, F(1, 125) ⫽ 4.56, p ⫽ .035. Post hoc tests (Newman–Keuls
used here and elsewhere, p ⬍ .05) showed that at both ages, jobs stereotyped as
masculine elicited higher status ratings than jobs stereotyped as feminine, but that
the difference was significantly smaller in younger children, Ms (SDs) ⫽ 3.8 (.5)
versus 3.3 (.6) than it was in older children, Ms (SDs) ⫽ 3.7 (.4) versus 3.0 (.5).
Analyses also revealed a significant interaction between participant sex and
cultural stereotype of the job, F(1, 125) ⫽ 4.81, p ⫽ .030. Both boys and girls
rated jobs stereotyped as masculine as higher in status than jobs stereotyped as
feminine, but the difference was significantly greater in boys, Ms (SDs) ⫽ 3.8 (.5)
versus 3.1 (.6), than it was in girls, Ms (SDs) ⫽ 3.7 (.4) versus 3.2 (.5).

Status Ratings (Composite Scores) for Familiar and Novel Jobs by Stimulus and Participant

Younger children Older children

Boys Girls Boys Girls

M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) M (SD)

Familiar jobs
Masculine stereotyped 3.8 (0.6) 3.8 (0.5) 3.7 (0.3) 3.6 (0.4)
Feminine stereotyped 3.2 (0.6) 3.3 (0.6) 3.0 (0.5) 3.1 (0.4)
Novel jobs
Male portrayed 3.2 (0.8) 3.2 (0.8) 2.8 (0.5) 2.6 (0.6)
Female portrayed 3.0 (0.8) 3.1 (0.8) 2.3 (0.7) 2.3 (0.6)

Subsumed by these interactions were two main effects. One was age, F(1, 125) ⫽
4.55, p ⫽ .035, with younger children giving higher status ratings than older chil-
dren, Ms (SDs) ⫽ 3.5 (.5) versus 3.3 (.4), and the second was cultural stereotype of
job, F(1, 125) ⫽ 298.16, p ⬍ .001, with culturally masculine jobs receiving higher
status ratings than culturally feminine jobs, Ms (SDs) ⫽ 3.7 (.4) versus 3.2 (.5).

Novel Occupations: Status Ratings

As was the case for the familiar jobs, we began by examining the relation among
ratings on the four status questions for novel jobs. As expected, all pairs were sig-
nificantly correlated (all p’s ⬍ .001), and thus we again created a single compos-
ite status score that had a high Cronbach’s alpha (.89). Of primary interest were
children’s ratings of job status of the novel occupations in relation to whether the
occupations were portrayed as being performed by men or by women. Thus, the
composite status scores served as the dependent measure in an ANOVA in which
the between-subjects factors were age (younger, older) and participant sex (boys,
girls), and the within-subjects factor was portrayal sex (jobs portrayed with male
workers vs female workers). Means and standard deviations for status ratings of
novel jobs are also presented in Table 1, again divided by participant age and sex.
Analyses revealed an interaction of participant age and portrayal sex, F(1, 126) ⫽
3.95, p ⫽ .049. In the younger age group, there was no significant difference in
status ratings of jobs, irrespective of whether they were portrayed with men or
women, Ms (SDs) ⫽ 3.2 (.8) and 3.1 (.8). However, in the older age group, jobs
portrayed with men were rated as significantly higher in status than those por-
trayed with women, Ms (SDs) ⫽ 2.7 (.6) and 2.3 (.6). Subsumed by this interac-
tion were two main effects. One was a main effect of age, F(1, 124) ⫽ 38.85,
p ⬍ .001, with younger children assigning higher status than older children, Ms
(SDs) ⫽ 3.2 (.7) versus 2.5 (.5); the second was a main effect of portrayal sex,
F(1, 124) ⫽ 17.10, p ⬍ .001, with jobs portrayed with men receiving higher rat-
ings than jobs portrayed with women, Ms (SDs) ⫽ 3.0 (.7) versus 2.7 (.8).

Own Job Interests

As explained earlier, children were also asked about their own interest in each
of the 37 jobs, again using a 5-point scale. Children’s interests in familiar and
novel jobs were analyzed with two separate three-way ANOVAs. Table 2 presents
means and standard deviations for interest ratings for both familiar and novel
jobs, again broken down by participant age and sex.
For the familiar jobs, the two between-subjects factors were participant sex
(boys, girls) and age (younger, older), and the within-subjects factor was cultural
gender of the job (masculine or feminine). Analyses revealed an interaction of sex
and cultural gender of the job, F(1, 125) ⫽ 101.56, p ⬍ .001. As anticipated, boys
expressed significantly higher levels of interest in masculine jobs than in femi-
nine jobs, Ms (SDs) ⫽ 2.3 (.8) versus 1.8 (.7), whereas girls expressed signifi-
cantly higher levels of interest in feminine jobs than masculine jobs, Ms (SDs) ⫽
2.6 (.8) versus 2.1 (.7). It is noteworthy that these results also showed a signifi-
cant contrast between boys’ and girls’ relative interests in masculine and feminine

Interest Ratings (Composite Scores) for Familiar and Novel Jobs by Stimulus and Participant

Younger children Older children

Boys Girls Boys Girls

M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) M (SD)

Familiar jobs
Masculine stereotyped 2.5 (1.0) 2.3 (0.9) 2.2 (0.5) 1.9 (0.5)
Feminine stereotyped 1.9 (0.9) 2.9 (0.9) 1.6 (0.5) 2.4 (0.7)
Novel jobs
Male portrayed 1.9 (0.8) 2.0 (0.9) 1.4 (0.4) 1.3 (0.4)
Female portrayed 2.0 (1.0) 2.0 (1.1) 1.3 (0.5) 1.3 (0.5)

jobs. That is, follow-up tests showed that for culturally masculine jobs, there was
no significant difference between boys’ and girls’ levels of interest, Ms (SDs) ⫽
2.3 (.8) versus 2.1 (.7), whereas for culturally feminine jobs, boys expressed sig-
nificantly lower levels of interest than did girls, Ms (SDs) ⫽ 1.8 (.7) versus 2.6
(.8). Subsumed by this interaction was a main effect of participant sex, F(1, 125)
⫽ 6.60, p ⫽ .011, with girls reporting higher levels of interest than boys, Ms
(SDs) ⫽ 2.4 (.7) versus 2.1 (.7). Finally, analyses also revealed a main effect for
age, F(1, 125) ⫽ 11.20, p ⫽ .001, with younger children indicating significantly
greater interest in jobs than older children, Ms (SDs) ⫽ 2.4 (.9) versus 2.0 (.5).
For the novel jobs, the two between-subjects factors were participant sex (girls,
boys) and age (younger, older), and the one within-subjects factor was portrayal
sex (jobs portrayed with men or women). The only significant effect was a main
effect of age, F(1, 123) ⫽ 23.91, p ⬍ .001, with younger children expressing
higher levels of interest overall than older children, Ms (SDs) ⫽ 2.0 (.9) versus
1.3 (.4).

Individual Differences
In addition, of concern was whether judgments of job status and interest would
vary in relation to individual differences in endorsement of cultural stereotypes.
To address the role of differential levels of children’s own gender-related atti-
tudes, we analyzed the younger children’s job status and interest ratings by
ANOVAs like those reported earlier, except that the between-subjects factor of
participant level of stereotyping replaced the between-subjects factor of partici-
pant age. Children were categorized into more- and less-stereotyped groups on
the basis of their responses to questions about who should perform each of 20 cul-
turally masculine and feminine jobs. Those children who gave above the median
number (11) of flexible “both men and women” responses were classified as less
stereotyped. (Detailed data concerning the findings on the endorsement measure
per se are omitted because findings are redundant with prior research using com-
parable measures, see Bigler, Liben, & Yekel, 1992; Signorella et al., 1993.) In

recognition of the potential for capitalizing on chance by analyzing the younger

children’s data twice, we set alpha at .01.
None of the main effects nor interactions involving children’s level of stereo-
type endorsement was significant for any of the four ANOVAs, including the
analysis of (a) status ratings of familiar jobs, (b) status ratings of novel jobs, (c)
children’s own interest in familiar jobs, and (d) children’s own interest in novel
jobs. This conclusion remains unchanged even if a less conservative alpha is used
(.05), and even if more extreme selection criteria were used to form the more and
less stereotyped groups (contrasting children in the upper versus lower thirds of
the distribution rather than children above vs below the median). These four
analyses revealed a number of significant effects not involving participants’ level
of stereotyping. However, because all of these effects were reported in discussing
the earlier analyses, they are not repeated here.

The data from our study are consistent with the hypothesis and prior research
showing that children, like adults, are aware of status differentials among jobs.
First, with respect to familiar jobs, children rated jobs viewed by the culture as
masculine as being higher in status than jobs that are viewed by the culture as
feminine. This effect was found even in the younger children, although it became
more pronounced with age (as evidenced by the significant interaction between
participant age and job type). Given that investigations described in the introduc-
tion showed similar differential ratings by adults, the greater value placed on
masculine jobs over feminine jobs appears to emerge in early childhood, expand
in middle childhood, and continue into adulthood.
However, the data from familiar jobs alone cannot provide compelling evi-
dence that it is a job’s association with males, per se, that accounts for differen-
tial ratings of status. An equally plausible explanation is that the familiar jobs in
the masculine set are more highly prestigious than those in the feminine set.
Indeed, there is precisely such a confound. This confound is regrettably difficult
to avoid if jobs are selected to sample jobs typically encountered by middle-class
children. It is precisely because of the inherent relation in our culture between
prestige and gender of jobs that the data from the novel jobs are especially impor-
tant. By using novel jobs, we were able to disentangle sex of worker from the jobs
themselves because we could experimentally counterbalance the jobs’ link to gen-
der. Under these circumstances, differences in status ratings could be attributed to
the influence of the sex of the worker apart from characteristics of the jobs them-
As predicted, portrayal sex did have a significant effect on status ratings of
novel jobs, again in interaction with participant age. In the younger age group,
portrayal sex did not affect status ratings, but in the older group, jobs portrayed
with men received significantly higher status ratings than did the identical jobs
portrayed by women. Additional research is needed to determine whether this
interaction truly means that, with age, children become increasingly likely to

assign greater status to male than female workers. A number of alternative inter-
pretations must be considered. One possibility is that younger children had diffi-
culty in understanding and implementing the status-rating system. This interpre-
tation is unlikely, however, given that the internal reliability was high for both age
groups, that children used a wide range of ratings, and that there was a significant
effect with familiar jobs using the same procedure.
A second and more likely possibility is that younger children need a stronger
manipulation to create a functionally equivalent impression of jobs as linked to
men or women. For example, because of younger children’s more limited pro-
cessing capacities, it may take quantitatively more experience (e.g., more trials, a
greater number of exemplars) before the sex of portrayal is encoded. A related
possibility is that it may take a more explicit manipulation to draw younger chil-
dren’s attention to the gendered nature of objects or behaviors. In our study, chil-
dren were simply shown jobs portrayed as performed by men or women, but no
explicit attention was drawn to the difference (e.g., by adding “The job of higgler
is one that women like to do” or “As you can see, higglers are usually women”).
Some support for the possibility that explicit labeling of the feminine or mas-
culine nature of objects or behaviors is important for young children may be
found in the contrast in findings from prior studies of children’s toy preferences.
Martin, Eisenbud, and Rose (1995) found that explicitly telling preschool chil-
dren about sex-related preferences for novel toys (e.g., “This is a toy girls really
like”) affected children’s subsequent ratings of how much they liked the toys and
how much they thought other boys and girls would like them. In contrast,
preschoolers’ ratings were not affected by simply seeing different proportions of
boys and girls playing with novel toys in photographs (Johnston, 1997) or video-
tapes (Vazquez, 1998). Additional research is needed to evaluate the hypothesis
that younger children’s ratings will generally be affected by explicit, but not by
implicit information about links between gender and toys, activities, behaviors, or
jobs. Irrespective of which explanations are ultimately found to account for the
lack of an effect of portrayal sex in the younger age group, it is noteworthy that
there was a significant effect in the older sample. The data from the novel jobs
showed that at least by the time children reach middle childhood, they accord
greater status to jobs simply because they are occupied by men.
From the perspective of intervention, it is also important to consider the
implicit-explicit dimension further. If future work demonstrates the power of
explicit statements, it might be possible to prevent the development of gender
stereotypes by avoiding explicit statements about the gendered nature of objects
and behaviors. This suggestion is reminiscent of Bem’s (1983) admonition to
avoid explicit categorization by sex in the classroom (e.g., asking boys and girls
to line up separately to go to lunch or recess, or asking for a “strong boy” to help
carry something). It is also consistent with empirical data reported by Bigler,
Brown, and Markell (in press) showing that it is only when teachers use explic-
it verbal labeling to refer to groups that children develop stereotypes about those

It is important to note that the preceding comments about intervention concern

the establishment rather than the maintenance of gender stereotypes. More direct
interventions are likely to be needed to ameliorate gender stereotypes that already
exist (e.g., see Bigler & Liben, 1990, 1992; Schau, Kahn, & Tremaine, 1976;
Schau & Scott, 1984). In the absence of direct interventions, children with high-
ly stereotyped attitudes are likely to distort incoming counterstereotypic informa-
tion to make it stereotype-consistent, thus reinforcing rather than reducing stereo-
types (e.g., Carter & Levy, 1988; Cordua, McGraw, & Drabman, 1979; Liben &
Signorella, 1980; 1993; Martin & Halverson, 1983; Stangor & Ruble, 1989).
In addition to addressing the roles of cultural gender and portrayal sex in chil-
dren’s ratings of job status, the current study was also designed to examine their
influence on children’s own job interests. The data from familiar jobs are consis-
tent with earlier research showing children’s sensitivity to gender in their own
aspirations. Boys expressed significantly higher interest in culturally masculine
than feminine jobs; girls expressed significantly higher interest in culturally fem-
inine than masculine jobs. Interestingly, for culturally masculine jobs, there was
no significant difference between boys’ and girls’ expressed interest, whereas for
culturally feminine jobs, boys’ interest was significantly lower than girls’. From
a theoretical perspective, these findings are consistent with the position that chil-
dren are generally more interested in higher prestige jobs (Stockard & McGee,
1990), and, in addition, with the idea that gender identity is more tenuous in
males so that the adoption of traditionally feminine roles is relatively more threat-
ening and more likely to elicit negative responses (see Fagot, 1977; Golombok &
Fivush, 1994; Levy, Taylor, & Gelman, 1995; Ruble & Martin, 1998). From an
applied perspective, these findings suggest that it should be easier to attract girls
to traditionally masculine educational and occupational pathways than to attract
boys to traditionally feminine ones. Indeed, the pattern of changes in college
majors and occupations is consistent with this implication insofar as there has
been far more movement in the direction of women entering traditionally mascu-
line fields such as those in business, science, law, and medicine than of men enter-
ing traditionally feminine fields such as those in education, the languages, and the
arts. To effect the former, one should need only to open the gates (as in affirma-
tive-action admission or hiring programs). To effect the latter, one should need to
enhance the appeal of traditionally feminine jobs. Consistent with this reasoning
is the finding that when labor shortages drive up salaries, increasing numbers of
men have entered traditionally feminine fields (Williams, 1993).
The effect of gender evident in children’s own interests for familiar jobs was
not, however, evident in the novel jobs. That is, even though there was an effect
of portrayal sex on children’s ratings of the status of the novel jobs, there was no
effect of portrayal sex on children’s own interests in those jobs. This combination
of findings is fully consistent with other research showing that children’s own job
interests are resistant to influence from short-term experiences, even experiences
that are shown to affect their beliefs about those jobs for others. For example,
Bigler and Liben (1990) found that teaching children that the sex of an individ-

ual is irrelevant for having a particular job affected children’s beliefs about what
others could do, but had no effect on children’s own occupational interests. The
current finding that children did not express interests in these novel jobs in rela-
tion to portrayal sex may simply reflect the gradual nature by which job interests
are normally established. Furthermore, it may be that insofar as children have
already selected (even tentatively) the jobs in which they are interested, they are
unlikely to substitute or add newly (and only briefly) encountered jobs to their
Finally, while our primary interest was in examining the effects of cultural
stereotypes and worker sex on children’s occupational judgments at the group
level, we also examined whether individual differences in young children’s
endorsement of gender stereotypes of occupations might mediate the effect of
gender on status ratings or job aspirations. Contrary to expectations, we found no
evidence that children’s gender attitudes were involved in mediating either the
correlational link between cultural-gender stereotypes of familiar occupations
and children’s ratings of status and interest, or in affecting the causal link between
portrayed worker sex and children’s ratings of occupational status. Apparently,
the cultural-level experiences that convey job status operate irrespective of
whether the children themselves are relatively more or less stereotyped.
Although more work is needed to explain the full pattern of findings, the data
already in hand are compelling in demonstrating that even young elementary
school children are aware of status differentials among jobs. Furthermore, at least
by middle childhood, children appear to have acquired the belief that jobs per-
formed by men have higher status than those performed by women, and by young
childhood, children have developed greater interest in occupations that are stereo-
typically associated with their own sex. Interestingly, while girls and boys show
roughly comparable interest in masculine (higher status) occupations, girls evi-
dence significantly and substantially higher levels of interest in feminine jobs
than do boys. It is interesting to consider whether—and if so, how—girls justify
their interest in jobs that they themselves rate as low in status.
One possibility is that for girls, career choices comprise a smaller part of what
enters judgments about self-worth and personal satisfaction. Perhaps, as a group,
girls see their ultimate occupations as secondarily important to the roles that they
will play within the family. In essence, this is a hypothesis that a “mommy track”
emerges in childhood such that young girls are already recognizing (and perhaps
valuing) the balance between career and family goals and accomplishments.
Perhaps they are already preparing to accept reduced status from one while antic-
ipating enhanced satisfaction from the other. If so, job qualities other than status
are likely to play a larger role in affecting girls’ interests. For example, girls may
show preferences for jobs that can be more easily meshed with family roles (e.g.,
flexible work schedules) and/or prefer occupations that involve skills similar to
those used at home (e.g., nurturance).
In summary, while additional research is needed to address the many questions
arising from our work, the current experimental data demonstrate that the very

fact that a job is associated with men can, alone, add status to occupations at least
by middle childhood. By this age, both boys and girls attributed higher status to
novel occupations performed by male than female workers in circumstances in
which everything but sex of worker was held constant. Even as the data raise
important theoretical and empirical questions to pursue in future research, they
suggest a range of interventions that might be effective in helping to overcome,
and perhaps even prevent, children from prematurely foreclosing their career


Familiar Jobs

Culturally Masculine Jobs

doctor, farmer, dentist, plumber, professor, truck driver, business executive,
auto mechanic, banker, scientist

Culturally Feminine Jobs

fashion model, gymnast, librarian, nurse, babysitter, cheerleader, secretary,
teacher, bank teller, dental assistant

Culturally Neutral Jobs

artist, singer, writer, cashier, guitarist

Novel Job Titles and Descriptions

Chandler is a person who makes and sells candles in a shop. A chandler makes
different types of candles and sells them to customers.
Limner is a person who paints pictures of people. A limner paints a picture of
the person’s face while the person sits in a chair.
Higgler is a person who sells items such as watches or candy on the street. A
higgler carries things to sell in a cart so that it’s easy to move up and down the
Nose is a person who tests perfume. A nose smells small bottles of liquid to see
which ingredients produce the best-smelling perfumes.
Ginner is a person who runs a cotton gin. A ginner runs cotton through a small
machine to clean it so that it can be used to make cloth.
Milliner is a person who makes hats. A milliner designs hats, cuts out the mate-
rial and sews it together to make many different kinds of hats.
Cilpster is a person who tests batteries to see how powerful they are and how
long they will run. A cilpster figures out which type of batteries will work best in
things like toys and radios.
Cartoner is a person who designs packages for things that you buy in stores. A
cartoner makes new and attractive shapes for packages for everything from sham-
poo to toys.

Silter is a person who checks pearls from the ocean. A silter sorts the pearls
into those that are the best in quality and those that have cracks or brown spots.
Heigist is a person who tests the quality of the water in a city. A heigist makes
sure the drinking water is safe to drink.
Tenic is a person who is in charge of creating handicapped parking places. A
tenic does things like decide how many handicapped parking spaces there should
Benster is a person who studies deer. A benster collects information about
where deer live, how much food they need, and how to keep them off the high-

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Received April 4, 2000; revised July 28, 2000; published online June 7, 2001