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Gender inequality is still mirrored in young people's career aspirations

The third issue of the series Social Change in Switzerland addresses the gender division concerning career aspirations among adolescents. This article, by Lavinia Gianettoni et al., demonstrates that the majority of girls intend to enter a profession that is mixed or atypical in terms of gender. However, two-thirds see themselves working part-time in order to be able to combine work and family life. The internalisation of gender norms is thus maintaining the segregation of women on the labour market, which does not make sense from an economic perspective.

The article is based on a study on the professional aspirations and orientation among girls and boys nearing the end of compulsory education, which was financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation. It involved collecting data from 3,302 adolescents aged between 13 and 15 in five Swiss cantons (Geneva, Vaud, Ticino, Aargau and Bern) in 2011.

The authors have observed that almost two-thirds of the boys surveyed hope to enter a profession that is typical in terms of gender, i.e. one in which people of their own sex make up 70% or more of the total (IT specialist, police officer, etc.). Less than a third would like to enter mixed professions (doctor, secondary school teacher, etc.) and just 7% aim for an atypical profession (primary school teacher, hairdresser, etc.). As for the girls, a third would like to enter a typically female profession (early years teacher, beauty therapist, etc.), half are interested in a mixed profession and 19% would prefer an atypical profession (lawyer, engineer, etc.).

The data also show that two-thirds of girls imagine that they will work part-time in the future for family reasons, compared to 37% of boys. And while the boys' desired level of activity is not related to a particular type of career, the girls who want to work part-time are more likely to choose "women's" professions.

Institutional and ideological factors

The authors conclude that institutional and ideological factors still have an impact on young people's aspirations: insufficient childcare structures, a lack of work-life balance in certain professions and the way children are socialised – which still favours the division of roles based on gender – are maintaining the horizontal and vertical segregation of women on the labour market. There are still fewer women in professions that are valued by society and well paid. The same applies to high-level positions.

What is more, the persistence of these gender-based inequalities has an economic impact, since young women's training is not fully exploited by the labour market. For these reasons it is vital to keep working to remove the many constraints that limit young people's professional and family-related ambitions.

>> Lavinia Gianettoni, Carolina Carvalho Arruda, Jacques-Antoine Gauthier, Dinah Gross, Dominique Joye (2015)
Aspirations professionnelles des jeunes en Suisse: rôles sexués et conciliation travail/famille
Berufswünsche der Jugendlichen in der Schweiz: stereotype Rollenbilder und die Vereinbarkeit von Familie und Beruf

[Professional aspirations of young people in Switzerland: gendered roles and work-life balance]
Social Change in Switzerland No. 3.
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Contacts: Dr. Lavinia Gianettoni, 079 565 35 81,