This study examined Gottfredson's (1981, Journal of Counseling Psychology, 28, 545-579) theory of circumscription, which predicts that gender will influence occupational preferences from the age of 6 years and social background, the prestige level of preferences after 9 years. From 396 New Zealand children, aged 5-14 years, free choice occupational preferences were obtained, together with parental socioeconomic status (SES) and an ability measure. An occupational card sort was used to obtain forced choice occupational preferences. Results indicated strong sex-typed preferences from an earlier age than suggested by Gottfredson, with males demonstrating more rigid sex typing than females. Consistent with Gottfredson's theory, social background only influenced preferences among respondents older than 9 years. However, the influence of ability on the socioeconomic status level of preferences was stronger than that of social background among the older respondents. Results are discussed in terms of their implications for Gottfredson's theory of circumscription.