Preference theory

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Preference Theory is a theory developed by the influential British sociologist, Catherine Hakim to describe, explain and predict women's preferences with regards to lifestyle choices. It is noteworthy for attempting to explain the difference between the outcomes of men and women, especially with regards to employment and pay. Preference theory is an advancement on Gary Becker's Human Capital Theory, for which he won the Nobel Prize for in the early 1990s.

Preference Theory

The theory is founded on the expansion of women into employment out of the traditional domestic sphere, which occurred because of the following 5 main societal shifts:[1]

1. The contraceptive revolution gives women reliable control over their own fertility for the first time in history.
2. The equal opportunities revolution gives women genuine access to all positions and occupations for the first time in history
3. The expansion of white-collar occupations, which are more attractive to women.
4. The creation of jobs for secondary earners, such as part-time jobs, working at home, teleworking, and annual hours contracts.
5. The increasing importance of attitudes and values in affluent modern societies, which gives everyone the freedom to choose their

Whereas men are constrained by a work role, women are able to choose or prefer either a work role, a home role, or a combination of the two. Hakim divides women into three categories:

Work Centred (20-40%). These women are usually childless and can be viewed on the same level as men. They tend to perform well in the job market since all of their human capital is invested into their career at all times.

Home Centred (20-40%). These women tend to be married and choose to leave the labour market to raise the children of the family. They may still attend university and gain qualifications to meet a man of the intended high calibre, but not necessarily to advance any career as such. These women may have a career but will drop out of the labour market long-term to raise children.

Adaptive (40-80%). These women are of the most interest to sociologists, since they can choose either the role of worker or child carer at the same time. Choice of employment tends to veer towards convenience and part-time working hours, rather than career progression or high salary. Women in this category tend to be less ambitious and regard the progress of their family unit as a whole (especially their children) as more important than their own career.

Gender Pay Gap

To be written.

Preference Theory and Conservatism

To be written.

Criticism of Preference Theory

To be written.


  1. Hakim, Catherine (2000). Work-Lifestyle Choices in the 21st Century. Oxford Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press.