Research Article | Open Access

The Relationship of Gender Role Attitudes With Career Aspirations and Career Choices Among Young Adults

    Fatima Nadeem

    Institute of Psychology, Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, Pakistan

    Ruhi Khalid

    Institute of Psychology, Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, Pakistan

24 Mar, 2017
08 Oct, 2018
31 Dec, 2018

Globally, gender roles have seen a sharp shift as they become more egalitarian in the face of waves of gender equality movements that have swept the developed nations. This paper looks at changing gender roles in Pakistan from the vantage point of career aspirations and career choices that are credited as the driving forces behind the emancipation and liberalization of women in today’s society. The study used a sample of 126 intermediate students (63 boys, 63 girls) who were administered the Islamic Attitude Towards Women Scale (Khalid & Freize, 2004) and Career Aspirations Scale (Gray & O’Brien, 2007). The career choices of the participants were elicited by the use of a semi-structured interview. The career choices were then divided into traditional and non-traditional careers in accordance with male-dominated and female-dominated occupation groups (Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, 2014). The results revealed that men had more conservative gender role attitudes and lower career aspirations than women. Furthermore, women chose more non-traditional and male-dominated careers for themselves than men. More egalitarian gender role attitudes were found to be associated with higher career aspirations and non-traditional career choices among men and women. The study entails important implications for the changing gender roles and social status of women in today’s Pakistani society and draws significant association between career aspirations and social emancipation of women.

It is a palpable notion that men and women differ significantly in their respective opinions about their own roles in the society as they pertain to their genders. Their distinct roles in the society have been established through centuries of reinforcement of the view that women’s position is primarily of a homemaker while that of a man is chiefly of a breadwinner for the family. This traditional view has gained not only acceptance among the masses but is deemed to be the natural social structure of the world such that any deviation from this structure is considered to be an unusual practice. However, with changing times, the societal views regarding women’s role in the society have also undergone a momentous change with more egalitarian views advocating for women’s participation in the financial work force.

With the increasing emphasis on careers and professional lines of work at the turn of the twenty-first century, the concepts of career choices and aspirations have gained considerable popularity (Naseem & Ehsan, 2011). Farmer (1985) has defined career aspirations as an individual’s desire to have an occupation or line of work that they deem to be ideal for themselves. Traditionally, it has been observed that women tend to have lower career aspirations as compared to men in regards to professional careers and top managerial positions in view of their traditional gender role attitudes that attached the role of earning livelihood solely to the men in the house (Melamed, 1995). However, with the wave of industrial revolution and increased significance on higher education, women became interested in enhancing their participation in the professional workforce. Although, women’s participation in higher ranking top managerial occupations remains low world-wide, their career choices have broadened and their career aspirations have increased that explain their future occupational paths (Wahl & Blackhurst, 2000).

Women’s increased participation in the work force that was once considered a territory claimed by men has been largely fueled by the changing gender role perceptions. Studies that track the trends over time have recognized a considerable change in the gender role attitudes of men and women from traditional to more egalitarian that have made individuals more likely to believe that women should have a part in the occupational arena (Andersen, 1997; Bolzendahl & Myers, 2004; Inglehart & Norris, 2003).

Martin and Roberts (1984) published a paper titled Women and Employment in which they stated that the impetus for change in gender role attitudes was set in motion during the 1960s and 1970s which showed a significant increase in the economic activity among women. The paradigm shifted from male breadwinner and female homemaker households to male and female double income households during the period of 1960 to 2003 which saw an increase from 44 percent to 79 percent in women’s involvement in occupational sector (Brewster & Padavic, 2000; McInnes, 2006). It would not be an exaggeration to say that in recent times, society has become more supportive and tolerant of women’s active participation in occupational arena of economic activity.

As women’s career aspirations differ from those of men, so do their career choices. Career choices refer to a broad range of opportunities or prospects an individual has in deciding his or her future vocation. It is stated that an individual’s unique vocational choice satisfies his or her personal, economic and intellectual goals that he or she has set for himself (Super, 1957). Although increasing number of women have now entered the professional work force, they tend to choose mainly female-dominated careers and are under-represented in the vocations at the top of the occupational hierarchy which are largely occupied by men (Riaz, 1995).

In recent times, the question of whether women will participate in the labor force or not seems largely irrelevant. On the contrary, the more relevant question relates to the type of choices women will make in selecting a career for themselves. Generally, it has been observed that while more and more women have now become actively integrated in the occupational work force, they have typically chosen traditional and conventional career paths for themselves. In Pakistan, only 5% of the total female labor force is currently employed in male dominated careers (Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, 2014). Gutek (1998) notes that occupations are gender-segregated that define what lines of work are traditionally suitable for male and those that are deemed to be suitable for women. Consequently, women prefer to remain in positions that are not superior to occupations that are traditionally occupied by men. By doing so, women carefully remain in the gender-stereotyped occupations because they fear that by choosing male-dominated fields of work, they might display what is known as gender-deviant behavior which is looked down upon by most of the patriarchal societies around the world.

Gottfredson (1981) presented a career choice theory that appears to be relevant in discussing the reasons of males and females for selecting distinct career paths for themselves. Her theory draws on from the developmental aspect that highlights the role of gender role attitudes and one’s own gender self-image in selecting a particular career. She put forth the notion that while growing up, children learn through interaction with the societal perceptions that which occupations and career paths are appropriate for males and females. This orientation to sex roles in relation to appropriate lines of work develops between the ages of 6 and 8. As children grow older and gain exposure of the social values as well as their own unique self, they narrow down their career options to those that match their own gender roles and eliminate those career choices that stand in contrast to their gender roles.

The concept of gender role attitudes that have remained largely inflexible and conservative for people in this part of the world, gain special importance in regards to women’s careers. It is observed that as women increase their activity in the occupational circles and aspire for careers, their gender role attitudes become more liberal and they shun the view of women as a stay-at-home housewife and that of a man as a sole breadwinner (Aziz & Kamal, 2009; Colaner & Warner, 2005; Ming, Ahmad, & Ismail, 2007).

The contemporary gender role ideology holds that those times are far-gone when men were considered to hold the public sphere as the ultimate breadwinners for the family and women occupied the private sphere as the prime caregiver of the family. Khalid (2011) notes that factors such as urbanization, modernization, increased emphasis on higher education, migration, technological advances, media and subsequent exposure to other cultures are responsible for this dramatic shift in gender roles. She further claims that while changes in gender role attitudes have been on the rise worldwide, Pakistan is still divided among liberal and conservative gender role attitudes. Conservative gender role attitudes have long been the favored opinions of the masses that are against female emancipation and endorse marginalization of women. However, liberal gender role attitudes are on the rise that encourage female emancipation and endorse liberalization of women in all sectors of life.

Although, the interest in studying the social and gender roles has always been evident in the literature, however there are gaps in the theoretical understanding of gender roles in association with career aspirations and choices. Therefore, it becomes highly imperative to systematically study the changing social roles and status among men and women in Pakistan and look at it from the vantage point of career aspirations and career choices that are credited as the driving forces behind the emancipation and liberalization of women in today’s society. The purpose of the study is to add to the knowledge base of the literature regarding the career aspirations and choices of young adults in relation to their gender role attitudes in an indigenous context. The following hypotheses have been formulated in the light of literature review:

1. Men have more conservative gender role attitudes as compared to women
2. Women have higher career aspirations as compared to men
3. Gender role attitudes of women who aspire for non-traditional gender role careers are more liberal than females who aspire for traditional gender role careers
4. Females with liberal gender role attitudes have higher career aspirations as compared to females with conservative gender role attitudes
5. There is a significant relationship of gender role attitudes with career aspirations and career choices


The study used a sample of 126 intermediate students (boys = 63; girls = 63) with the mean age of 18.34 years. The sample was collected from three public colleges of Lahore, namely Kinnaird College for Women, Forman Christian College and Government College University in order to ensure homogeneity of the sample. In addition, only students enrolled in intermediate programs were recruited for the present study because at this stage of educational career, students typically focus their attention towards the kind of career they will adopt in the future. Descriptive analysis of the study participants revealed that 63.5% of the participants aspired for traditional careers (f = 80) while 36.5% aspired for non-traditional careers (f = 46).

Following instruments were used in the present study:

Islamic Attitude toward Women Scale. The Islamic Attitude toward Woman Scale (IAWS) is widely used scale to measure gender role attitudes that was developed in 2004 by Khalid and Frieze. The scale has been adapted from Spence and Helmreich’s (1972) Attitude towards Women Scale. The scale has been specially designed to measure gender role perceptions among the Muslim populations. It measures gender role attitudes on the extremes of liberal and conservative attitudes on the domains of occupation, education and relation. The scale consists of 30 items which are scored on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree. Khalid and Freize (2004) have shown that the scale has good construct validity as it significantly differentiates between liberal and conservative Muslims. It has a Cronbach alpha reliability of .91 in the Pakistani sample.

The scale provides a degree of reliability and legitimacy to the present study as it has been validated by using Pakistani sample which are also the primary target and sample of the present study. The scale generates liberal and conservative gender role attitudes which are used in the study in association with career choices and career aspirations. High scores on this scale represent conservative gender role attitudes and low scores represent egalitarian gender role attitudes.

Career Aspirations Scale. The Career Aspirations Scale was constructed by O’Brien in 2007 in order to assess career aspirations. The scale consists of 10 items that are scored on a 5-point Likert scale from 0 to 4 wherein 0 stands for Not at all and 4 stands for Very. The scale’s Cronbach alpha is reported to be .79 and has good criterion validity (Gray & O’Brien, 2007).

This particular scale was chosen to determine the career aspirations of the participants with the rationale that it is the primary sale that has been used in a number of national and international studies involving the variable of career aspirations and fittingly recognizes the degree of career aspirations. High scores on this scale represent higher career aspirations while low scores represent low career aspirations.

Career Choices. The desired career choices chosen by the respondents have been divided into two categories, namely, male-dominated career and female-dominated careers based on Standard Occupational Classification System (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010) and Occupation Group Division proposed by Labor Force Bureau (Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, 2014).

Table 1 lists the careers chosen by the participants that have been divided into male-dominated and female-dominated careers.

Table 1:
List of Male-Dominated and Female-Dominated Careers

Official permission was taken from the educational institutions to collect data from the students enrolled in their institutions. After obtaining permission, the participants were approached and administered the two self-report measures of gender role attitudes and career aspirations. After the completion of the self-report measures, the respondents were interviewed by the researcher to identify their career choices. The answers obtained from the respondents were noted down by the researcher with the consent of the respondent.


The Statistical Package for Social Sciences Version 20 was used to analyze the results. The quantitative analysis of the study was conducted by applying descriptive an inferential statistical analysis. Chi-Square was computed to determine the association of gender with traditional and non-traditional career choices. Pearson’s Product Moment Coefficient of Correlation was computed to determine the relationship between gender role attitudes, career aspirations and career choices of college students. In addition, Independent Sample t-test was computed to determine gender differences in gender role attitudes, career aspirations and career choices.

Table 2:
Descriptives of Study Measures (N = 126)

Note. Skew = skewness; Kurt = kurtosis; IAWS = Islmaic Attitudes towards Women Scale;
CAS = Career Aspiration Scale

Table 2 shows that Cronbach alpha coefficients for both scales are satisfactory and values of skewness and kurtosis are in range showing the data is normally distributed.

Table 3:
Chi-Square Test for Career Choices across Gender (N = 126)

Note. c2 = 26.84, df = 1
**p < .01

Chi-square was conducted to assess the association of gender with career choices as shown in Table 3. The test of association results indicate that gender is statistically associated with one's choice of traditional and non-traditional career; the results show statistically significant difference in career choices between boys and girls. These results suggest that men are more likely to prefer traditional careers whereas women are more likely to prefer non-traditional careers [c2 (1, N = 163) = 26.84, p < .01]. The results indicate that more men tend to choose traditionally male-dominated careers as compared to men who choose traditionally female-dominated careers. In contrast, more women were found to choose nontraditional and male-dominated careers as compared to women who choose traditional female-dominated careers. Therefore, the hypothesis is accepted that men and women differ significantly in their respective career choices.

Pearson’s Correlation was computed to assess the relationship among gender role attitudes, career aspirations, career choices and gender. The Pearson’s Correlation matrix in Table 4 indicates that there is a strong negative correlation between career aspirations and gender role attitudes (r = -.85, p < .01). Hence, more liberal gender role attitudes in the participants are associated with higher career aspirations while more conservative gender role attitudes are associated with lower career aspirations.

As shown in Table 4, a significant negative correlation was found between gender and gender role attitudes which means that men are associated with more conservative gender role attitudes. Furthermore, significant positive correlation was found on gender with career and career aspirations. This indicates that women are associated with non-traditional career choices and higher career aspirations.

Table 4:
Pearson’s Correlation Matrix of Demographic Variables with
Gender Role Attitudes and Career Aspirations (N = 126)

Note. Gender (1 = boys, 2 = girls); Career Choice (1 = Traditional, 2 = Nontraditional)
**p < .01

Career choices had a significant negative correlation with gender role attitudes which means that non-traditional career choices are associated with more liberal gender role attitudes. A significant correlation was also found between career choices and career aspirations which indicates that nontraditional career choices are associated with higher career aspirations.

Table 5:
Independent Sample t-test for Comparing Gender Role
Attitudes and Career Aspirations across Gender (N=126)

Note. CI = confidence interval, LL = lower limit, UL = upper limit

Independent sample t-test was computed to assess gender role attitudes and career aspirations across gender. Table 5 indicates that there is a significant difference in scores of gender role attitudes between men and women. The result confirms the hypothesis as women were found to be significantly more egalitarian in their gender roles attitudes (M = 53.57, SD = 17.31) than men (M = 90.85, SD = 18.56).

Table 5 also indicates that there is a significant difference in scores of Career Aspirations between males and females. The high mean score of women on career aspirations shows that females have higher career aspirations (M = 28.85, SD = 6.21) than men (M = 20.68, SD = 4.08). The obtained result supports the hypothesis that women have higher career aspirations than men.

Table 6:
Independent Sample t-test for Comparing Gender Role
Attitudes and Career Aspirations across Career Choices
among Girls (N = 63)

Note. CI = confidence interval, LL = lower limit, UL = upper limit

Independent sample t-test was computed to assess gender role attitudes and career aspirations across career choices among females. Table 6 indicates that there is a significant difference in scores of gender role attitudes among women in relation to their career choices. The high mean score on gender role attitudes of women with traditional career choices indicates that women with traditional career choices are more conservative in their gender role attitudes (M = 70.11, SD = 13.14) while those with nontraditional career choices are more liberal in their career choices (M = 41.94, SD = 7.72). Table 6 also indicates that there is a significant difference in scores of career aspirations among women in relation to their Career Choices. The high mean score of career aspirations in women with nontraditional career choices indicates that women with traditional career choices have lower career aspirations (M = 23.65, SD = 5.11) as compared to women with nontraditional career choices (M = 32.51, SD = 3.80).


The results of the present study negate the accepted fact that men and women tend to choose those careers that match with their own gender roles as men gravitate towards male-oriented careers such as engineering and computer personnel while women tend to prefer female-oriented careers such as teaching, social work or administration personnel (Hassan, 1996; Helwig, 1998). In the light of changing perspective regarding women’s positional and role in today’s society, it was hypothesized that this prevailing view of gender-stereotyping of occupations may have undergone a change.

The results stand in stark contrast to the US Census Bureau (2000) report that stated that between the years 1983 and 1998, women dominated the fields of nursing, teaching, clerical jobs, social work and minor administration personnel. The trend changed after the turn of the twenty-first century as it witnessed an increased influx of women into male-dominated work forces. Although, the male-dominated social and cultural zeitgeist in Pakistan is relatively slow to change, the change in women’s career choices was also seen here and as is confirmed by the results of the present study, women are more likely to choose male-oriented careers for themselves owing to their higher social standing in today’s society. The reason for this discrepancy between males and females can be attributed to the findings of Miller and Hayward (2006) and Rudman and Phelan (2010) who demonstrated that there is more stigma attached to males being interested in female-dominated occupations than there is attached to females being interested in male-dominated occupations.

Gender differences observed on gender role attitudes revealed that women are more liberal in their gender role attitudes as compared to males. These findings are also consistent with the findings of Aziz and Kamal (2009) who found that females hold liberal gender role attitudes while males still follow the patriarchal traditions of the society and are inclined towards conservative gender role attitudes. It is a common view that in a patriarchal society like Pakistan, women’s legal and social status has long been compromised in view of their primary role as family caregiver that disengages them from the economic and educational provision of the society. Galambos, Almeida, and Peterson (1990) found out that males become more conservative and females become more liberal in their gender role attitudes during their formative years due to the socialization process with parents and peers who reinforce the ideas regarding masculine traits and feminine traits. Since, masculine traits are more highly-regarded and endorsed in the society, therefore there is more pressure on males to assume the masculine roles than there is on females to assume feminine roles.

Gender differences observed on career aspirations revealed the females have higher career aspirations as compared to males. Similar results were reported by Eccles (1994) and Fiorentine (1988) who reported that while men are usually single-minded and restricted in their career aspirations, women tend to be engaged in process of enhancing and improving their life goals by aspiring for greater roles in their lives whether occupational, educational or social.

Moghadam (2003) provides several reasons for such a radical transformation in the way women’s mindsets have changed in favor of more feminist views and gender equality. She states that the increased emphasis on education, urbanization and the recent economic development are largely responsible for women’s desire to participate in the labor force. Economic development in particular has given rise to the demand for more workforces to fill the newly-created jobs. Thus, educated women pounced at the opportunity to shape their lives in the light of their occupational identity and readily joined the labor forces because increased education has been known to increase aspirations for employment in women (O’Connell, 1993; Papanek, 1979; Sellers, Satcher, & Comas, 1999).

Differences were also investigated in the gender role attitudes of females in relation to their career choices in the present study and the results revealed that females with egalitarian gender role attitudes tend to choose more non-traditional careers for themselves while females with conservative gender role attitudes tend to choose traditional careers. These findings are consistent with Corrigall and Konrad’s (2007) study in which they reported that gender role attitudes influence the choice of subsequent careers among college students. This is the reason that individuals with egalitarian gender role attitudes choose non-traditional careers while those with conservative gender role attitudes tend to gravitate towards gender-stereotyped careers.

The results provide an important vantage point to view career choices in respect to the prevailing gender role attitudes among females as Gottfredson (1981) highlighted in her theory that the understanding of one’s own gender and gender role attitudes tend to interact with gender-stereotyping of occupations. Hence, individuals who have flexible and less constricted ideas about gender in general and gender segregation in particular tend to choose more nontraditional career for themselves while strongly held and traditional gender role attitudes tend to predict the choice of more traditional careers. This assumption is also supported by various researches which reported that individuals who make nontraditional career choices tend to have more liberal social attitudes and more flexibility in their gender role attitudes (Dodson & Border, 2006; Lease, 2003; Lemkau, 1983).

Differences were also explored in career aspirations of females in relation to their career choices and results revealed that females who aspired for nontraditional career choices had higher career aspirations than those who aspired for traditional career choices. Several researches in the past have highlighted the reasons that are responsible for such a drastic difference between the career aspirations of females who choose nontraditional and traditional occupations (Flores & O’Brien, 2002; Reyes, Kobus, & Gillock, 1999). Gottfredson (1981) stated that male-dominated occupations generally have more prestige, social standing, monetary payment and significance in the society as compared to female-dominated occupations. When increasing number of women began venturing into male-dominated careers, they realized that these careers required more dedication and effort to succeed. Soon after this realization, females began preparing themselves to take on the challenge of such occupations by aspiring to reach at the top of their professional career by enhancing their education, developing expertise in the respective field and seeking to imbibe leadership qualities in themselves. Factors such as these, namely occupational growth, work-related factors and societal encouragement have also been identified as playing an imperative role in women’s decision regarding career choices (Abbasi & Sarwat, 2014). It is easy to see why more women opt for non-traditional career choices since they grant more opportunities for professional growth and provide better work-related benefits.

Finally, the study looked to examine the relationship between gender role attitudes and career aspirations of male and female college students. The results indicated that there exists a strong relationship between the scores of gender role attitudes and career aspirations which suggests that liberal gender role attitudes are associated with higher career aspirations while conservative gender role attitudes are associated with lower career aspirations among males and females. There is fairly consistent evidence that individuals with liberal gender role attitudes tend to aspire for higher career opportunities and set higher career goals for themselves (Colaner & Warner, 2005; Flores & O’Brien, 2002; Ming et al., 2007).

The increased women’s participation in labor workforces has been shown to be closely related to the changing gender role attitudes towards women in the recent years. Goldin (2006) argued that female labor force participation reflect the changing perception regarding women’s position in the societal, educational, occupational and legal spheres. The strong relationship between gender role attitudes and career aspirations has been credited to the simultaneous liberalization of gender roles and increased economic activity as several researches have pointed out that in history both the events have been known to occur together (Banaszak & Plutzer, 1993; Martin & Roberts, 1984).


Although the present research study succeeded in reaching its intended aims and found considerable support for each of its hypotheses, there were some inevitable limitations encountered in conducting the present research study. First, our sample comprised of male and female college students who enrolled in prestigious educational institutions in the metropolitan of Lahore. Therefore there are potential pitfalls of generalizing the results obtained in this study to students studying in rural areas or other less prestigious colleges. Second, the nature of the study was cross-sectional and it rendered the present study underpowered to study the changing nature of career choices and gender role attitudes of the participants because both these factors are liable to change with time as an individual is exposed to more experiences and at different educational levels (Gottfredson, 1996; Lee & Rojewski, 2009). Third, since a sizable sample of men who chose to opt for non-traditional and female-dominated careers could not be reached, the researchers were unable to test the differences in career aspirations and gender role attitudes across career choice among men.

The present topic can be more deeply researched if longitudinal research design is used in which the career choices and gender role attitudes of males and females are investigated at different critical intervals of their life events. Such researches will prove to be prolific in enhancing our knowledge of the development of gender role attitudes and their relationship with the dynamics of career development among youth. They will also provide a stimulating insight into how career choices made at an earlier point in life coincide with the actual occupations the individual chooses once he enters the professional sphere in his life. Future studies should also select those students as participants who are enrolled in less prestigious colleges in impoverished and underprivileged areas of the city which would allow for broader generalizations across different socioeconomic classes.


The present study investigated the gender role attitudes, career aspirations and career choices in college students and looked to assess the interplay of egalitarian and conservative gender role attitudes in career aspirations and choices made by them. The results elucidate that males and females differ from each other in their gender role attitudes and their subsequent career choices due to the changing perspectives of women’s social standing in today’s world. The study provides important implications for career and school counselors to provide a framework for youth to assist them in understanding their own career choices and helping them make more informed decision on which career to adopt. The results of this study can be adapted to help career counseling personnel in conducting career developmental guidance programs that will provide relevant information regarding the career choices that young students are aspiring for and also provide career exploration opportunities so that students look farther from traditionally gender-stereotyped occupations and explore nontraditional career choices as well.


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APA-7 Style
Nadeem, F., Khalid, R. (2018). The Relationship of Gender Role Attitudes With Career Aspirations and Career Choices Among Young Adults. Pak. J. Psychol. Res, 33(2), 455-471.

ACS Style
Nadeem, F.; Khalid, R. The Relationship of Gender Role Attitudes With Career Aspirations and Career Choices Among Young Adults. Pak. J. Psychol. Res 2018, 33, 455-471.

AMA Style
Nadeem F, Khalid R. The Relationship of Gender Role Attitudes With Career Aspirations and Career Choices Among Young Adults. Pakistan Journal of Psychological Research. 2018; 33(2): 455-471.

Chicago/Turabian Style
Nadeem, Fatima, and Ruhi Khalid. 2018. "The Relationship of Gender Role Attitudes With Career Aspirations and Career Choices Among Young Adults" Pakistan Journal of Psychological Research 33, no. 2: 455-471.