Gender and Career Choice


If you were asked to imagine a firefighter, what would they look like? How would they behave?

Now try to imagine a nurse. What would they look like and how would they act?

Most people would probably imagine a firefighter as a tall, confident, burly man. And a nurse, probably a nice, caring, lady. These images are at least partly the result of stereotypes, a widely held opinion or judgement about an individual or a particular group of individuals. However, are these stereotyped images based on real fact?

Sex Differences

There exists a breadth of research on sex differences, these being characteristics that differ on average between males and females (Hines, 2004). This section will explore a few differences that seem to exist between males and females and how these differences may have developed.

For instance, some sex differences appear to be present in early life, which suggest that some differences between males and females are at least partly innate. Differences between boys and girls and men and women are invariably also the product of our environment and society. Throughout history, women have taken on traditional domestic roles and have been and continue to be the main carers for children. However, During World War One, thousands of women adopted traditionally male-typical roles when their fathers, brothers and husbands were called to serve on the front line. Life for women changed massively in this time; women now worked outside of the home, managed money and engaged in male-typical activities such as football. Women flourished and expressed enjoyment in their work and newfound independence. Such examples highlight the role of society in shaping the roles we’re encouraged to adopt based on our gender, which may not necessarily reflect true interests or abilities. As already mentioned though, the behaviours and roles which differ between the sexes may reflect genuine differences. However, it is very difficult to untangle forces which are grounded in nature versus nurture and invariably, sex differences are a mix of both.

Through the activities for this section, you will be asked to consider the influence of different factors which may contribute to the development of sex differences. In particular, innate factors, encouragement from those in our environment and wider society will be presented as potential contributing factors in the development of certain sex differences, and the activities will allow you to consider and engage with each of these factors.

Resource activities

Psychological differences between males and females

Some differences between males and females are quite clear. For instance, males are, on average, consistently taller than females. However, sex differences in psychological and cognitive traits are typically much smaller in magnitude. Explore what these might be in this activity.



Various theories have been developed to understand the importance of social and cognitive mechanisms involved in the development of sex differences. Explore what some of these explanations might be.



There are various stereotypes and social demands placed on men and women. Stereotypes are so prevalent in our society and individuals are undoubtedly sensitised to stereotypes related to their sex. How do these stereotypes affect us?


Reflective questions

To answer and record these questions you will need to have an account and be logged in.

Task 1

What are the key arguments, concepts, points contained within it?

Task 2

What are you struggling to understand?

What could you do to improve your understanding of these concepts/terminology etc.?

Task 3

What further questions has this resource raised for you?

What else are you keen to discover about this topic and how could you go about learning more?

Can you make any links between this topic and your prior knowledge or school studies?

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Further reading