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Sex, gender, and aspirations to top management:who's opting out? who's opting in?

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The “opt-out revolution” has become a much-discussed phenomenon over the last decade. According to media reports, highly educated women are increasingly opting out of careers that would place them on the fast track to top management levels. However, little attention has been devoted to whether the opt-out revolution may also apply to highly educated men. The present study examined individuals' aspirations to top management, which provide an indication of the extent to which they are opting in or opting out of careers that might lead to top management. Participants were drawn from two populations, undergraduate business students and part-time (evening) MBA students. Part-time MBA students were found to be significantly less likely to aspire to top management (i.e., more likely to “opt out” of careers aimed at the highest managerial level) than undergraduate business students, especially male part-time MBAs compared with male undergraduates; male part-time MBAs were least likely to aspire to top management of the four combinations of sex and population. However, contrary to prior research, women's and men's aspirations to top management did not significantly differ. Also, individuals with a gender identity of high masculinity were significantly more likely to aspire to top management (i.e., “opt in”) than individuals with a low-masculinity gender identity. These results suggest that further study of the opt-out revolution should incorporate gender-related constructs such as gender identity and devote attention to men's as well as women's aspirations to top management.

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