Gender and Career Choice

What the difference in men's and women's career interests can tell us about discrimination.

~ 5 minute read

At Sokanu, we believe that one of the most important decisions people make, second perhaps only to whom they marry, is what career they choose. People’s career choices are fraught with bias, lack of information, market conditions, and sadly discrimination. We wanted to investigate the latter.

In that vein, we sought to use data from our career test on user career preferences, personalities, and gender along with our collection of US jobs data to explore how gender plays a role in career placement.

This kind of analysis in the past meant looking simply at the mix of men and women within a career. The problem with that approach is that it ignores the fact that men and women don’t share the same interests. For example, based on our own collection of psychometric data, women have a higher interest in beauty and style, and men have a higher interest in engineering.

A New Approach

We looked at 175 careers and compared each career across two dimensions:

  1. The male/female mix in actual employment, and
  2. The male/female split in self-reported interest (aka, the number of likes that a career received on Sokanu)

Rather than look at raw differences in men and women in careers, we looked at something we called the Interest Adjusted Gender Gap (IAGG). Simply put, IAGG measures the difference between the raw % of women in a career and the % of likes that career received from women†.

A high IAGG exposes careers that favor men, while a low IAGG exposes careers that favor women.

With this approach, we found some interesting results.

† For stats nerds out there, more women use our product than men, and so we standardized our like proportions to reflect the total male/female mix in the workforce.

Men’s and Women’s different interests only explains 30% of discrimination

Using a statistical measure called r-squared, we determined that the male/female mix within a career is on average about 31% explained by the fact that men and women have different interests. What this means is that about two-thirds of discrimination is explained by other factors.

In slightly more digestible terms, the correlation between the mix of men and women in a career with the self-reported interest in that career is 0.56. To give some perspective:

Careers that favor women tend to involve working with children, elderly, and the sick

Perhaps unsurprisingly, careers that disproportionately favor women over men, even when accounting for differences in interests, tend to involve caretaking and clerical work.

While you can make the argument that women are generally more trusted by people and have more experience and history in a caretaking role (e.g., 97% of babysitters are women), no similar anthropological argument can be made for female dominance in clerical work other than what is probably a history of discrimination.

Careers that favor men tend to involve trades, security, and engineering

Some Careers Discriminate Without Much Explanation

While it can be argued that discrimination is never okay, sometimes it can at least be explained by less malicious factors than abject bigotry. For instance, safety considerations might preclude some women from becoming taxi drivers or security guards. Conversely, more people likely trust females to watch over their children due to women being historically caretakers and heads of the family. Women are also more likely to have childcare experience early on as 97% of babysitters are women.

Discrimination in other careers is harder to explain. For instance, women are just as likely as men to show interest in being a pilot, and yet only 7% of pilots are women.

Women are discriminated against in more senior careers

Remember, positive numbers mean a career favors men (and discriminates against women) while lower numbers mean a career favors women (and discriminates against men). Careers as both chefs and cooks favor men, but chefs favor men to a larger degree.

Careers that favor women pay 20% less than careers that favor men

We decided to split up careers into two sets: one with careers that favored men (with IAGGs greater than five) and another with careers that favored women (with IAGGs less than five). When looking at the average salary of these two groups of careers, we found that the group favoring men paid 25% more than the group favoring women. Careers favoring women paid about 80 cents on the dollar compared to careers favoring men.

This 80 percent figure is close to the 78% wage gap figure frequently touted by the media, but since we are only looking at a sample of 175 careers and not normalizing for a number of factors, this is likely only a coincidence.

If the gender mix in the workforce reflected male/female interests, there would be a 6% wage gap

In the U.S., women are estimated to make about 78% the salary of men – a 22% delta between men and women. If we assumed that the labor market reflected the stated interests of men and women, there would still be a 6% gap. In effect, careers men are interested in tend to pay a bit more than careers women are interested in. However, even with that fact, there remains a 16% difference in the wage gap.


There is evidence that gender plays a role in career placements. While it has been argued by some that much of the gender gap in careers can be explained by interest, our data indicates that only about one third of career placement can be explained by differences in men’s and women’s interests. Similarly, it appears that only one quarter to one third of the wage gap can be explained by differing interest. Looking at a few careers in particular, even when accounting for the difference in male/female interests, men seem to disproportionately occupy senior positions (e.g. chefs), while women disproportionately occupy the junior counterpart (e.g. cooks).

Blog / Gender and Career Choice

Unlock the future you

Say hello to CareerExplorer, the personalized assessment that helps you find your dream career.

  1. Take the 30-minute free apititude test
  2. Discover your unique traits along the way
  3. Get career matches tailored to your personality