Salary and power: How occupational status affects children’s occupational aspirations

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Journal of Experimental Child Psychology Volume 232, August 2023, 105667


In many countries, labor markets are still highly gender segregated, with very few men working in communal occupations such as nursing. Because occupational aspirations start to develop during early childhood, it seems crucial to foster our understanding of which factors affect occupational aspirations during this period. Earlier correlational research showed that the status of occupations seems to be one important factor. Therefore, in the current work, we experimentally tested the effect of two dimensions of status (i.e., salary and power) on children’s occupational aspirations and examined its interaction with child gender. We also tested the relationship among gender, self-perceptions, and occupational values. Using a 2 (Salary: high vs. low) × 2 (Power: high vs. low) within-participants design (N = 127 [59 boys and 68 girls], Mage = 9.37 years, SD = 0.50) with child gender as a between-participants factor, we show positive main effects of both salary and power on children’s occupational aspirations but no interaction with gender. Correlational analyses show preliminary evidence for the mediating role of agentic self-perceptions in the relationship between gender and occupational values related to status. Thus, we provide evidence for the causal effect of occupational status on children’s occupational aspirations but show experimentally that this is independent of child gender. Interestingly, the correlational analyses indicate that gender norms might play a role given that boys in trend reported stronger agentic self-perceptions, which then were associated with a stronger desire to pursue high-status occupations. Implications for early interventions to reduce occupational gender segregation are discussed.