Young women’s strong preference for children and subsequent occupational gender segregation: What is the link?

Shireen Kanji, Sandra Hupka Brunner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


The purpose of this paper is to analyse how and whether young women’s strong and early preference for having children relates to the degree of occupational segregation of the careers they envisage for themselves and the careers they actually enter by the time they reach age 23.

Drawing on theories predicting that young women act to replicate gendered social stereotypes in their career choice and to anticipate careers they perceive to be reconcilable with future motherhood, the authors conduct quantitative analyses using panel data from the Transitions from Education to Employment Survey, a longitudinal survey of young people in Switzerland. OLS regression analyses how expressing a strong desire to have children at age 16 impacts: the proportion of women in the career engaged in at age 23 and the career anticipated age 16, relative to women not expressing this strong preference. Logistic regression examines whether selection into wanting children could be held responsible for the results. Finally the authors explore how initial expectations and later outcomes relate to each other.

Women who express a strong interest in having children (Kinderwunsch) at age 16 anticipate and enter occupations with a substantially higher proportion of women. Differences in objective labour-market characteristics, such as academic attainment, ability and psychosocial factors, namely self-efficacy, are not related to having a strong desire for children at an early age. Family factors have multifaceted effects.

Research limitations/implications
This research uses data from a cohort who were age 16 in 2000. The rapidly changing social context of Switzerland necessitates updating this analysis at regular intervals across cohorts.

Practical implications
Discussion is required to expand young women’s understandings of the implications of different career choices and to broaden the range of options that they consider and to which employers provide access.

Social implications
Wanting to have children is one of the factors that fuels occupational gender segregation. Although women might envisage that more gender-segregated occupations would allow them to combine work and family life, this may not be the case in reality.

This paper explores the important but previously under-explored relationship between early fertility preferences and occupational entry for women.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)124-140
Number of pages17
JournalEquality, Diversity and Inclusion
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 9 Mar 2015


  • Secondary education
  • Family roles
  • Sex and gender issues
  • Women workers
  • Work identity
  • Career development


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