The idea that girls should have careers rather than staying at home and being housewives has long been encouraged by feminism. In 1992 the President of the Ms. Foundation for Women began the first Take Our Daughters to Work Day, which followed a theme that can be found in feminist writings from the beginning. Only later, after many complaints, were boys added to yearly event.
However, a recent study by a group of researchers published in Psychological Science appears to contradict this notion that girls should have careers. Katharina Block, Antonya Marie Gonzalez, Toni Schmader, and Andrew Scott Baron, the authors of the study, found that by the age of six girls are more family oriented than boys, and boys were more career-oriented than girls. Since this gender difference occurred so early in life, researchers regarded it as possibly an innate gender difference.
Block and colleagues examined 411 children (6–14 years old), using different rating scales to measure communal and agency values (family versus career orientation), and explicit gender identification. They also used the Implicit Association Test to measure implicit gender identification. Finally they used the reports of parents about their 6-year-olds to measure the gender differences in the study.
The results of the study showed that by the age of six girls already showed higher communal (promoting others) and lower agentic (promoting one’s self) values than did boys. Boys showed higher agency (promoting self) values. Mediation analyses indicated that, despite gender differences in gender identification, children’s values were a better predictor of their future selves than were expectations by parents and others. These findings, according to the researchers, support the notion that early development of gender differences in root values predicts the path children will travel in their future.
I have long believed that children should children should not be pushed in any direction they don’t want to go in. In one of the many similar cases I have dealt with over the years, a father pressured his son to follow his footsteps and go into business. The son showed a talent for art at an early age, but the father dismissed this talent and inclination, saying he would never make any money as an artist. The son, meanwhile, was getting encouragement from teachers and others for his art works.
However, over the course of his childhood he had to repress his art talent and do what his father wanted him to do. His father threatened not to pay for his college unless he went into business and got an MBA degree. The son got his MBA and joined his father’s company, only to be miserable. He performed badly and his father lambasted him about it. “You’re my son. You need to live up to our family reputation!” Despite these lectures, or perhaps because of them, his work performance continued to diminish.
His wife, on the other hand, saw the art work he would do in the evenings and encouraged him to pursue a career in art. Soon, must to the chagrin of his father, he quit his job at his father’s firm and became an art director for an advertising agency. While working for the agency during the day, he continued to paint nudes, mostly of his wife, at night. Eventually, he found a gallery to show his work and achieved a modicum of success.
In the same way, parents, going along with the trend, often encourage and sometimes pressure, their daughters into having a career when in fact what they really want is to have a family and raise children. Sometimes, like the man described above, they become doctors or lawyers, achieving the goals their parents set out for them, only to later leave their careers in order to follow their original ambition.
Social engineering may sound good on the surface, but in the long time it often doesn’t work. Planning out a child’s career for them sometimes works and sometimes leads to heartbreak. In one case in which I became acquainted, a young woman was pushed by her over-zealous parents into become a lawyer. She achieved what they wanted, and even ended up being a partner in a prestigious law firm. But at the height of her success, she found herself rejected by the man she loved, was split apart by conflicts associated with pleasing her parents and pleasing herself, and became suicidal. Eventually, after psychotherapy, she found her true self.
I have found that if children are encouraged to individuate from their families and find themselves and find their real goals and their real voices, they usually do better in life.