Skip to main content

Boys want to fight, girls want to earn

Girls want to get married and have babies, while boys want to find jobs that involve fighting, running and saving people. Decades after the feminist revolution, cultural stereotypes still persist in the playground.

Cathie Holden of Exeter university questioned pupils at 12 primaries in southern England. She spoke to them at length about their personal and professional aspirations. This highlighted a strong gender divide: girls generally aspired to professional jobs, while boys wanted to be stuntmen or soldiers. Only one boy, aged nine, said that his ambition was "not to join the army".

But both boys and girls dreamt of making money. Some spoke of buying a "cool car", others of wanting a nice house. Yet others hoped to acquire fame along with their fortune. Several wanted "to be famous", while some contented themselves with travelling the world or living overseas.

Almost twice as many girls as boys were afraid of failing in their jobs.

They worried about doing badly at school or being unable to find a job.

They also worried about losing any job that they did find, and being homeless or in debt.

And the post-Bridget Jones generation still worry about finding a man.

Almost two-thirds of girls said that they were concerned about getting married and having children. Their fears focused on potential future relationship problems, as well as the possibility that they might not be able to have children. Others worried about having no friends, or that members of their family might die.

By contrast, only 27 per cent of boys were worried about relationships, marriage and families. They were afraid of ending up as victims, either of bullying, mugging or a road accident. And 11-year-old boys, in particular, were scared that they might start smoking, drinking, or taking drugs.

Inner-city boys are especially fearful for their futures. One boy said:

"I'm worried that I will be encouraged to do bad things."

Dr Holden concluded: "We need to listen to what children say, acknowledge their concerns and help them access information so that they can make sense of complex issues."

I'd like to hear from anyone working on a project or publishing a paper that they think is relevant to TES readers. Please email me at:

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you