Publication Date


Degree Program

Department of Sociology

Degree Type

Master of Art


This thesis examines the differences of experiences in working-class and middleclass women's lives due to childhood gender-role socialization and current situations in their lives. The purpose of the study is to examine how past and present experiences influenced four groups of women in making career decisions: 1) owners of nontraditional (male-type) businesses, 2) owners of traditional (female-type) businesses, 3) non-owners of nontraditional (male-type) businesses, and 4) non-owners of traditional (female-type) businesses. Both social and cognitive processes were examined for clues. In-depth interviews were conducted with a total of twenty women to examine their Childhood and current experiences of gender socialization. The women were chosen on the basis of their current occupation. Questions were designed to elicit descriptions of respondents' experiences regarding: 1) common interactions with siblings, friends, parents, and teachers (significant others); 2) messages about careers and educational options from significant others; 3) messages about motherhood from significant others; 4) gender stereotyped actions from significant others; 5) role models; 6) parental education and occupational training; 7) current social networks; 8) how the respondent became interested in her career; 9) respondents' work experiences and educational levels; and 10) major influences on respondents' occupational choices. The socialization approach was used to analyze and explain how these women's experiences affected their career choices. In addition symbolic interactionism and a middle-range theory called habitus and field by Pierre Bourdieu were used. It was found that women who are from the working class experience a cumulative disadvantage due to an internalized scheme through which their values are filtered. In addition, the opportunity structure is not as developed for working-class women as it is for women who are considered middle class (based on their occupation). Business owners were found to have many shared experiences which were not common to the other category of women. The first is that most business owners turned out to have been raised by parents with liberal gender-role attitudes. As a result, most reported that motherhood was not an assumed fact for their lives. When motherhood is not assumed, girls feel less pressure to prioritize marriage and family above a career. In addition, eight out of ten business owners had parents who actively encouraged Achievement values. All ten business owners learned to set long-term goals as children, and most had nontraditional hobbies. Nine out of ten business owners, as opposed to four out of ten non-business owners, had parents who actively supported their hobbies. Also, the majority of business owners, as children, had known and admired at least one person who had an interesting career. The non-business owners and the women who are in traditional occupations are cumulatively disadvantaged as regards their ability to make a completely free choice regarding a career. During childhood they received more messages that might have led them to assume that motherhood must take priority over career plans; they experienced fewer nontraditional hobbies and less parental support regarding long-term goals; they had less exposure to women in nontraditional careers or to women who were business owners; they had less assistance planning a career; and their parents provided fewer achievement-oriented activities and were less likely to interact with them on a regular basis. Thus far during adulthood they have experienced less support for their career goals; they experience less autonomy, flexibility, and creativity on the job, and they are likely to feel less confident about financial planning and their own leadership ability: Over all, they have lower self-confidence than business owners and women in nontraditional careers.


Gender and Sexuality | Inequality and Stratification | Sociology