Efforts to inspire girls to enter traditionally male industries, such as construction, are being hampered because entrenched cultural and social attitudes are not being tackled in primary schools.
Research into efforts to promote equality by 14-19 pathfinders for the Department for Education and Skills and the Equal Opportunities Commission found secondary citizenship lessons are helping to challenge traditional views about careers for girls.
There are 39 14-19 pathfinders, local collaborations between schools, colleges and employers which provide vocational alternatives to traditional secondary education.
But the report said by 14 it might be too late to change career aspirations: "Strategies to confront stereotypical views about gender should be introduced in school well before the 14 to 19 phase. We would suggest that these issues should be a priority in the primary phase of education.
"By the age of 14, many students have already thought about careers and have selected and rejected options that will impact on later career choices. Although gender segregation results in inequalities for all, it particularly affects women who end up in lower-paid occupations."
Official figures show women's median hourly pay in 2004 was pound;9.46 compared to pound;11.07 for men.
Teachers should be trained in equality issues so that they can raise pupils' aspirations and widen the choices available to them, the report said.
"Discussions need to be encouraged in schools about how different careers afford different opportunities in the long term and the impact of stereotypical career choices upon girls and boys," the report said.
The report warns that increased emphasis on vocational education in secondary school could reinforce gender stereotypes by encouraging young people to narrow their options at an earlier age than before.
Equality and Pathfinders by Gill Haynes, Caroline Wragg and Keith Mason, Exeter university is available on the web from www.dfes.gov.ukresearch