Beyond occupational choice : a study of gendered transitions
The transition from education to the labour market is a constant theme for sociological investigation, but the study of occupational choice itself has occupied a peripheral place in the theory and research literature for the past two decades. Of particular concern here, neither extant theories of occupational choice nor the contemporary youth studies literature offer satisfactory accounts of the patterns of girls' aspirations and the social processes in which these are embedded. It is argued here that occupational choice processes are a critical switch in the social reproduction of gender relations. Specifically situated subjects construct a transitions biography from a range of legitimated and concretely available alternatives. The possibilities are specified through the terms of gender discourse which, in describing the confluence of circumstances and understandings, represents the social space in which girls are positioned and position themselves across time. A model of the modalities of gender relations is developed and explored through a study of primarily working class girls aged 11-14 and 14-16 between 1983-1986 who were attending three inner London comprehensives. The data were collected by cross-sectional survey (N = 169) and interview (N=61) and by longitudinal interview (N=37). These girls see occupational structure in highly gendered and partial terms, corresponding to the specific social worlds they inhabit. Over time, perspectives and aspirations focus increasingly on female-typed jobs. Within this, their expectations reflect what is judged realistically available. Such processes of gendered closure are modified by educational achievement and by schooling milieu in relation with family and cultural context. Subject specialisation fixes the course of these processes, since options are generally chosen with current aspiration/ expectation in mind. In sum, gendered transitions across the secondary schooling years are shaped not only institutionally but also socially and culturally by girls' personal attempts to resolve the contradictory puzzle of production/reproduction relations under modern patri3 archy and in the light of the resources at their disposal. Most trajectories inevitably prefigure accommodative arrangements and do not threaten social reproduction processes, but this does not imply non-critical and automatic consent. The potential for critical consciousness is fostered by various cross-pressures in the specific configurations of girls' lives, but the partial insights they open up are held in check both ideologically and through social-educational selection/ allocation.