Characteristics of an Occupation Theory and Evidence

Woman Welding 1 300x200 Characteristics of an Occupation Theory and EvidenceReview Recommendations, Strategies, Effective Practices, and Resources

What the Literature Says*


  • Nontraditional careers that give back to the community, directly or indirectly, are attractive to both men and women. Men find  greater job satisfaction in some traditionally female jobs; women seek or attempt to create occupational flexibility within existing male fields.
  • Providing comprehensive information about high-wage, high-skill occupations promotes participation in nontraditional careers. Misconceptions and lack of information, especially for women about traditionally male fields, add to the gender-based barriers.
  • Women will participate in nontraditional occupations at a higher rate because many nontraditional occupations are high-wage, high-skill occupations.


Greater job satisfaction: Male elementary school counselors reported more job satisfaction and less role conflict than male engineers in a study by Dodson and Borders. Dodson and Borders found that men who choose a nontraditional career that represents upward mobility in contrast to their family of origin, have higher job satisfaction. One longitudinal study found that females in male-typed occupations are much more satisfied than those in gender-neutral occupations. Nozik (1987), as reported in Lease (2003), found that men in nontraditional occupations have less need to achieve high career status and “may value other components of their occupations.”

Interpersonal interactions and relationships: Men in nontraditional careers indicate an interest in working with people. Since many female-dominated jobs are service-oriented and focus on helping, teaching, nurturing, and healing others, men who are interested in interacting with others might find a good fit in a nontraditional career.

Community contribution for women: Twenty-four percent of women currently looking to re-enter the workforce are seeking “jobs that allow them to contribute to their communities in some way.” In a study of the motivation behind IT professionals, one study found that males are motivated to pursue computer science because they enjoy it. Females are engaged by how useful the field can be to themselves and to others.

Occupational flexibility: One study found that a high desire for a family-flexible job was one of three factors that motivated women to persist toward a nontraditional career. However, another study that searched for factors of persistence for women in physical sciences found that young women who had male-dominated occupation aspirations in the 12th grade, who had a low desire for a job that would allow flexibility, and who placed high intrinsic value on physical sciences were less likely to “leak out” of the math/science pipeline. By contrast, women who believe that occupational flexibility is important when trying to combine a career with childcare may be more likely to change their aspirations out of male-dominated occupations.

Advantages for men in nontraditional careers: Traditional female-concentrated careers offer three main advantages for men: job security, public-sector employment that reflects public-sector values, and “room to pursue interests and commitments outside work.” These advantages were especially true for working class men in nontraditional careers, perhaps most clearly reflecting their “understanding of the place of work in their life.” Job satisfaction is the most important factor influencing the commitment of men to nursing.

Traditional barriers high for women: Findings from Women at Work research indicate that one-third of women are still concentrated in 10 of the 500 occupations identified by the U. S. Census Bureau and “women do not appear well-positioned to access high-paying, high-quality jobs.”

Realistic view needed: Students may be opting out of a career because they have an incorrect view of the profession. In one study, 50 percent of 836 Californian high school students imagined computer scientists as “sitting in front of computers and programming all day.” In fact, in this same study, the vast majority could not describe what computer science majors study.

More information provides opportunity: Respondents to a survey of 1000 female IT professionals stated that they took advantage of opportunities in the field because they saw availability and earnings potential. They further indicated that “the intellectual challenge of the IT field” motivated them to enter and persist in that field. Assessment of wages, job satisfaction, and job quality are higher for men than for women with college degrees.

Higher paid traditionally male jobs: Women may lose $434,000 in income, on average, over a lifetime due to the career wage gap. Women in all occupations suffer from this gap, but it ranges widely from one occupation to the next, with the widest gap in finance and management and the smallest gap in construction and maintenance. Men feel entitled to high pay and then adjust their self-assessment of skills to match this expectation. Women report salary expectations between 3 percent and 32 percent lower than those of men for the same jobs. Fair pay policies can be effective in improving equity for women and usually improve productivity and retention as well.

Negotiation: Women are better negotiators when they have solid knowledge about what their job is worth.

*Please note that author/date callouts to references and full references can be found in the Print Form of the Root Causes document. You will be asked to complete a brief survey about your intended use of the document. The PDF will download after the survey is submitted. Thank you for your assistance!