Does the Gender Pay Gap Begin at Home?

girl doing dishes

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Seventy-five cents for every dollar. That’s the figure people often cite when talking about the gap between what men and women earn. While the actual size of the gender pay gap is up for debate – some say it’s 78 cents for every dollar, others say it’s more like 84 cents for every dollar — there’s little doubt that women as a whole earn less than men for a variety of reasons.

Some blame the gender pay gap on women’s choices, since men are more likely to choose higher-paying careers than women. Yet attributing the difference to choice alone is an oversimplification. Consider that jobs that are predominately female tend to pay less than jobs that are predominately male. That suggests that jobs that are categorized as “women’s work” are seen as less valuable than work traditionally done by men and so they offer lower wages. “If a job is filled mostly by women, [employers] set a lower wage than they otherwise would,” professor Paula England told the American Academy of Political and Social Science.

Women are also more likely than men to leave the workforce temporarily, work fewer hours, or turn down promotions, often to care for children or other family members. All of that can depress their earnings, according to the Pew Research Center. Women may also be less aggressive than men in negotiating salary increases. Outright discrimination – paying a woman less than a man for doing the same job — plays a role as well.

Bottom line: The underlying causes of the gender pay gap are complex. And now there’s evidence that a difference between women’s and men’s earnings emerges as early as childhood.

Writing in The Society Pages, Lisa Wade, a professor of sociology at Occidental College, discusses several studies that show that not only to girls tend to do more household chores than boys, but that they are also paid less for their work. For example, when researchers at the University of Michigan studied how children spent their time, they found that boys were 15% more likely than girls to get an allowance for doing household chores.

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

An Australian study revealed a similar discrepancy in how much children were paid for completing household chores. The researchers found that male children tended to earn more money than female children for doing work around the home, even though they spent less time on those tasks. Boys earned an average of $48 a week compared to $45 for girls. But boys spent only 2.1 hours a week doing household chores, while girls spent 2.7 hours. There was also a clear gender divide in the type of chores boys and girls were responsible for. Girls were more likely to help do the dishes, clean the house, or do laundry, while boys were more likely to mow the lawn, take out the trash, or wash the car.

Once children start looking for work outside the home, the wage gap continues. Male babysitters earn 50 cents more per hour on average than female babysitters, according to Priceonomics. By the time they are teenagers, many girls seem to have internalized the idea that they will not be paid well for their work. Nearly a quarter of teen girls recently surveyed by Junior Achievement said they expect to earn no more than minimum wage at their first job. Just 16% of boys thought they were destined for minimum wage employment.

When it comes to teaching their children about money, parents also do a better job with boys than girls. More teen boys report that their parents help them keep track of money than teen girls (31% versus 20%), even though girls want to have those conversations (40% of teen girls said their parents didn’t talk to them enough about managing money, compared to 24% of boys).

“Talking with our kids about money management at an early age prepares them to more confidently handle financial decisions in the future,” said Junior Achievement board member and Allstate executive vice president Jim Haskins in a statement.

Right now, it seems that boys are more likely to learn those financial fundamentals than girls, putting girls at a distinct disadvantage. If girls aren’t learning essential money lessons at home at an early age, and if they’re also learning that their work is less valuable than that of their brothers, they may well end up paying the price as adults.

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