Although more high school students than ever are preparing themselves for nontraditional careers, the change is slow. Females are far more likely to enter a nontraditional field, but it's most likely to be a professional, rather than a technical or industrial trade.
And, contrary to the beliefs of most parents, students rate their mothers and fathers as the strongest influence in choosing particular careers.
These are some of the findings from a recent study of eighth- and tenth-grade students conducted by the Institute of Occupational Education at Cornell University.
More than one-third of the students surveyed indicated that they had considered a nontraditional career. Of the female sample, 61 percent had thought about a nontraditional career compared with only 13 percent of the males.
A nontraditional vocation for women is defined as one with at least 75 percent men, and for men as a job that is held by at least 75 percent women.
Even though more of today's students think about taking nontraditional vocational education courses, not many actually enroll.
''Too many people choose a particular career because it's 'appropriate' for their sex rather than suited to their abilities and interests,'' says Helen C. Veres, an educational researcher with the institute in the department of education at Cornell.
Few students are taking vocational courses not usually associated with their sex ''because of a general lack of encouragement by parents, counselors, and peers,'' she says.
Females, in particular, are attracted to nontraditional careers because salaries are much higher than traditionally female-oriented jobs, Ms. Veres points out. Among all students surveyed, a good salary was the prime consideration in choosing a particular field, followed by the opportunity to use one's own abilities and the chance for advancement.
Enrollment trends in vocational education in high schools have been significant in some areas and slight in others. In 1974 females constituted 9 percent of the enrollments in agricultural-related courses and 4 percent in technical courses. By 1979, 23 percent of the students in agricultural and 17 percent in technical courses were women.
Less of a change has occurred in trade and industrial courses: In 1974, 20 percent were women, and by 1979 the number had risen to only 23 percent. The greatest change has occurred in professional areas, such as medicine and law.
Cornell's research team, which surveyed 460 students, all in New York State, also gathered information from 127 parents to determine their attitudes. ''Parents think their children don't listen to them, yet we found that students considered discussions with parents as having the greatest influence on their decision in choosing a carreer, while parents rated this interaction as the lowest among the techniques used,'' Ms. Veres says.
In considering careers, students ranked mothers highest as their primary source of information, followed by counselors, fathers, and then peers. In considering nontraditional jobs, females perceived much more support and encouragement from their mothers and families than boys did. For both males and females considering nontraditional careers, male friends were considered the least supportive, and even a negative influence.
Although parents advised their children similarly on what qualities to look for in a job, such as salary and the chance to get ahead, mothers were more likely to recommend that girls consider jobs ''working with other people.''
When asked about their own jobs, more than half of the adults indicated that they would not pursue the same occupation again. Men valued a good salary, the chance for advancement, and outdoor work as qualities they liked about their jobs, while women stressed the importance of working with people.
Ms. Veres says it's never too early for children and parents to discuss career decisions, and that it's just as important for girls to think about a career as it is for boys: ''More than half of all women work, and 9 out of 10 women will have worked sometime in their lives,'' she points out.
Although males may be reluctant to consider traditionally female jobs such as nursing, teaching, and social work because the pay is lower and opportunities are slimmer, females should seriously consider nontraditional jobs because opportunities for women in these areas are ''quite good,'' particularly in technically ''neutral'' areas such as data processing and environmental careers.
''Nontraditional jobs seem more popular than ever, mostly because of the media,'' says Ms. Veres, ''but there is little evidence of dramatic changes in the choice of nontraditional careers. Equality in careers is far from being a reality.''