Playing with Dolls?  Playing with Trucks? 40 Years Later, There’s a Difference in Jobs

Predicting Adult Occupations from Gender and Personality Traits

By In Weekly Email 5 minute read time

Playing with Dolls?  Playing with Trucks? 40 Years Later, There’s a Difference in Jobs

At an incredibly early age, our personalities form.  By the time we’re graduating from Kindergarten, most of us lock into a certain personality type.  Is it possible that our personality traits, embedded as early as five, six, or seven years old, could predict our future occupational choices?  Researchers Woods and Hampson offer empirical evidence that the answer is YES.  The full article, along with its world-class statistical techniques, can be found here.

A Study Like No Other…..

Lost in the history books is a rather unique research undertaking.  In the 1950’s almost 2400 school age children from Hawaii were given personality assessments.  Six decades later, these two scholars mined the data and what they’ve found is nothing short of incredible. 

At its most atomic level, consider that personality traits found in children predicted specific vocational choices 40 years later. Take, for instance, the personality trait of Openness/Intellect.  Children that scored higher on this trait means that, at a young age, they were more intellectually curious, more open to new ideas and unconventional thoughts. They, too, possessed a greater imagination.  In statistically significant terms, these youngsters were much more likely to go into vocational fields labeled Artistic or Investigative.  Investigative occupations include medicine and science. 

Kiddos that were high on Conscientiousness, meaning boys and girls with high attention to detail and the willpower to plow on through to get tasks done, were much more likely to embrace Conventional vocations.  Conventional occupations involve working systematically with data, filing records, and performing other rule-regulated processes. 

In their own words, here’s one major takeaway from this study—“childhood personality traits predict occupational environments in later life”!

Boys Will be Boys….

Another major finding was what the authors call gender effects.  The authors found statistically significant evidence that stereotyping seemed to play a role in future vocational choices.  Specifically, boys were much more likely to choose Realistic vocational positions.  These occupations prefer tangible activities that involve working with tools or machines.  These occupations tend to be viewed as conforming or practical.

Girls, 50 years later, were much more likely, as women, to work in Social vocational areas that involved helping others.  Of course, this triggers thoughts of education or nursing.   Girls were also much more likely to grow into Conventional work roles that involved working with data, filing, and could be viewed as administrative or clerical. 

The Most Interesting Finding

The most compelling storyline of this study was the interaction between personality and gender roles.  In particular, those that scored highly on Openness/Intellect as boys and girls, were much more likely to ignore gender stereotypes in making future occupational choices.  Again, in the researchers’ words, we get the golden nugget of the study—

…for children viewed as high on Openness/Intellect, adult occupations did not differ by gender….more imaginative girls and boys were more likely to work in other occupations indicating that gender-based stereotyping is less likely for occupations with higher Openness/Intellect.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The Kimono doesn’t get much into educational or political policy.  But this compelling research prompts us to re-think some entrenched beliefs and attitudes.  It’s clear from this longitudinal study that children that develop imaginative and intellectually curious personalities are more likely to rebel against gender stereotypes for vocational choices.  Perhaps, we need to teach those that score lower on this dimension that a range of untypical occupations exist and it’s okay to explore unconventional career options.

This study suggests that we can’t have this conversation early enough.

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