Girls are limiting their career options by going for "worthwhile" jobs while boys go after big salaries, new research by Oxford University has found.
This means girls are "self-limiting" their career options in favour of low paying jobs like working for charities or museums, while boys focus mainly on salary and have higher aspirations for their future careers.
These "worthwhile" jobs are generally characterised by more ‘informal’ recruitment policies - like getting an internship or doing unpaid work - and entry level jobs are often below what are generally considered "graduate jobs".
The survey, of nearly 4,000 sixth formers in all types of schools, also found that girls by the time they hit their teenage years are already limited their career options, as they start "internalising gender stereotypes".
The Oxford University study investigated the pay gap between men and women after they left universities and colleges.
Experts suggested girls go for lower paid jobs that are more influenced by their lifestyle because they have an "unconscious bias" towards traditional roles where men are the "breadwinners".
The findings are being presented by Jonathan Black, director of the Oxford University Careers Service, at the Girls Schools Association (GSA) annual conference in Wales.
Mr Black said: "We surveyed sixth form students after identifying gender as the single biggest factor in whether graduates from top universities secured a graduate-level job.
"Having seen that female students were less confident, we extended the research to sixth form pupils to learn if they had the same attitudes and behaviours.
"Our latest research has confirmed that gender-based differences in career confidence start early. Sixth form girls have lower confidence about their careers and, compared with boys, are more concerned about each aspect of job applications, and are more interested in careers that offer job security, in a cause they ‘feel good about’.
"This has the knock-on effect that girls may be self-limiting their choice of careers, especially because the types of jobs they seek often have informal entry processes (via networking or low and unpaid internships, for example)."
He added that Oxford University Careers Advice was looking at ways "to intervene and equip school pupils with the ability to improve their career confidence using a new programme, Ignite, as a possible solution".
Karen Parker, a management consultant who gives careers advice at top private girls' schools, said women have other reasons why they want to work and salary tends to be a "key driver" for men.
Ms Parker, who was also speaking at the GSA conference, said girls are more likely to go for lower paid jobs because "when then look at the environment that surrounds those higher pay jobs, is not as attractive to them as some other areas and quite often that might be because it is male dominated and it is not a working environment they'd like to be in".
She added: "Women look for more than salary for the careers that they are going into. Traditionally we've always looked at men as being breadwinners but that is now changing. It could be an underlying reason [for women to choose jobs that make them 'feel good']."
The research was conducted through a survey of 3,698 students from 63 different schools and colleges across the UK, including 31 coeducational and 32 single-sex schools.
Of the schools surveyed, 31 were state schools, while 32 were independent schools.
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