B3984 - Long-Term Occupational Implications of Preschool Gender-Related Play Behaviour - 14/02/2022

B number: 
Principal applicant name: 
Karson T. F. Kung | University of Hong Kong (China)
Title of project: 
Long-Term Occupational Implications of Preschool Gender-Related Play Behaviour
Proposal summary: 

Globally, there are substantial gender gaps in occupations. Men are overrepresented in leadership and managerial positions, as well as in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, whereas women are overrepresented in administrative and assistant positions, as well as in education and social welfare fields. Similar gender differences are evident in the UK, where men represented 66% of parliament members in 2019 (UK Parliament, 2020), 67% of leadership board members across the top 350 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2020 (FTSE Women Leaders, 2021), and 73% of the STEM workforce in 2019 (British Science Association, 2020), whereas women represented 72% of school teachers, 86% of nurses, and 92% of secretaries in 2018 (UK Office for National Statistics, 2018).

The developmental approach is underused in existing high-level strategies designed to tackle the gender gaps, although the roots of these gaps can be traced back to early childhood. Crucially, aspects of childhood play show some of the most substantial behavioural gender differences in human development. It has been proposed that male- and female-typical play are qualitatively different and differentially contribute to the development of personal characteristics and gender-related socio-cognitive processes (Kung, 2022). Recently, using ALSPAC data, Kung (2021) has provided the first evidence that preschool gender-related play behaviour longitudinally predicts gender-related occupational interests in adolescence. Nonetheless, it remains unknown whether childhood play contributes to actual occupational choices in adulthood.

This proposed study will test the relationship between preschool gender-related play behaviour and gender-related occupations in adulthood.


Kung, K. T. F. (2021). Preschool gender-typed play behavior predicts adolescent gender-typed occupational interests: A 10-year longitudinal study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 50, 843–851.

Kung, K. T. F. (2022). Gender differences in children’s play. In P. K. Smith and C. H. Hart (Eds.), The Wiley-Blackwell handbook of childhood social development (3rd ed.). Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Impact of research: 
Globally, gender segregation in different occupations can be commonly observed. These substantial gender differences in work contribute to the worldwide gender pay gap and lifelong income inequality. The roots of these differences can be traced back to childhood. A more advanced understanding of the relevant mechanisms in early development is needed, so that the developmental roots of the gender gaps can be tackled properly. In the long run, a more gender-balanced workforce across different sectors can reduce income inequality and ensure more diverse perspectives and approaches in different industries. Previously, Kung (2021) found that preschool gender-related play can predict adolescent gender-related occupational interests. The current study will extend Kung (2021) and test if there is a link between preschool gender-related play and gender-related occupations in adulthood. If there is link between the two, parents and educators may facilitate more diverse occupational outcomes amongst boys and girls by encouraging them to engage in a wider range of play activities.
Date proposal received: 
Sunday, 30 January, 2022
Date proposal approved: 
Monday, 14 February, 2022
Developmental Psychology and Gender Studies, Behaviour - e.g. antisocial behaviour, risk behaviour, etc., Statistical methods, Development, Psychology - personality, Sex differences