Listen Up Class: Why Your Gender and Class May Affect Your Chosen Career Path

Ever since I was around ten years old I knew wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. Of course, this was after my phase of wanting to become a sensational pop star like Hannah Montana or a fairy princess like Barbie. But if you think about it, why was my aspiration never to become an astronaut, a doctor, a custodian, a violin performer, or an interior designer? Was it because none of these professions ever interested me… or was it because I was a girl born into the lower middle class?

When I tell people I want to become an elementary school teacher I get several different responses. When some women hear about my intended career path, they praise my intense patience with children and look at me as if I am embarking on an almost dangerous career, as if they know they couldn’t handle it themselves. Other women simply brush off the fact that I am majoring in elementary education because they are going into pre med, psychology, or some form of engineering; a much higher valued path than teaching. When I tell some men, they simply look me up and down as if to say “oh, that makes sense, considering you’re a woman”. Or they respond saying that my choice is very “wholesome”, which doesn’t sound all too appraising. Essentially, everyone responds in different ways, either due to personal experiences or their own class and gender. But are they right? Did my socioeconomic class and gender affect my decision making?

According to the article “Rich Kids Study English” by Joe Pinsker, being born into the lower middle class might have done just that. After analyzing data from the National Center for Education Statistics, sociologist Kim Weeden states that “yes, the amount of money a college student’s parents make does correlate with what that person studies. Kids from lower-income families tend toward “useful” majors, such as computer science, math, and physics.” Students in lower classes realize at a young age that they need a sturdy foundation to support themselves later in life, hence choosing the ‘useful’ majors. Later in the article college students from upper class families were described as more likely to choose classic majors like history, English, and performing arts rather than math, physics, and computer science. Motoko Rich in the article “Why Don’t More Men Go Into Teaching?” also explains that “teachers generally have lower levels of unemployment than other college-educated Americans.” Therefore, teaching would go under the category of a “‘useful’ major” that attracts the lower classes as Weeden stated before.

As for my gender being a contributing factor to my choice of elementary education, Rich explains this phenomenon in his article. With more than three-quarters of all teachers (kindergarten through high school) being women, going to school and being taught by predominantly women influenced my mindset. Since teaching was one of the first professions I was exposed to,  I believed it to be one of the few options I had as a future career.

As to why people would look down upon me for becoming an elementary school teacher, Rich explains this as well. He reveals that jobs dominated by women tend to have less prestige. Sociologist Philip N. Cohen from our very own University of Maryland even agreed, saying that “if a job is done primarily by women, people tend to believe it has less value.” Unfortunately, the cultural devaluation of being an educator has yet to change from the 1960’s when teaching first opened to women.

Nevertheless, should people contribute my chosen career path to my socioeconomic class or gender? It’s eye-opening to think about my choice being influenced by factors I can’t control, but does that make it right to assume that becoming an elementary school teacher is due to the fact that my options are limited to practical and female-prominent careers?

1 Comment

  1. Oh wow. You asked a great question & made an incredible point. And also, what you’re introduced to in life and by who can also determine the profession you choose. If you’re exposed to a world above & beyond the income you grow up in, perhaps the outcome of your aspirations are just that. But definitely not always.


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