The XX Factor

Even Children Have a Gender Wage Gap. Call It the Allowance Gap.

Politicians can help fix the wage gap, but fixing the allowance gap depends on parents.

Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

The gender pay gap, it seems, starts in elementary school. That’s according to this Bryce Covert–penned roundup of research on children, chores, and allowances at ThinkProgress. Boys are more likely to get an allowance, with 67 percent of boys polled saying they get an allowance versus 59 percent of girls. Even when girls do get an allowance, it’s generally lower on average than what boys get. This is all despite the fact that girls, on average, do more chores around the house. The message we’re sending to kids from day one is that girls are simply worth less:

But unfortunately, it’s not likely because boys do more chores. One study found that girls do two more hours of housework a week than boys, while boys spend twice as much time playing. The same study confirmed that boys are still more likely to get paid for what they do: they are 15 percent more likely to get an allowance for doing chores than girls. A 2009 survey of children ages 5 to 12 found that far more girls are assigned chores than boys. A study in Europe also found fewer boys contribute to work around the house.

And it’s not just that boys are more likely to be paid by their parents, but they also get more money. One study found that boys spent just 2.1 hours a week on chores and made $48 on average, while girls put in 2.7 hours to make $45. A British study found that boys get paid 15 percent more than girls for the same chores.

To be clear, I doubt that deliberate sexism is playing a role in the allowance gap. Few, if any, parents are sitting a son and daughter down and saying that they think the boy is worth more so he will be getting more money for fewer chores. The allowance gap is likely the result of unconscious bias in how kids are socialized. Parents don’t realize they expect girls to pitch in around the house more, but that expectation—as any girl who finds herself pressed into doing dishes while male relatives gather around the TV can attest—gets conveyed all the same.

Nor is it particularly surprising to find that parents give boys more money. In our culture, and in much of Western Europe, there’s a tendency to treat boys as if they’re a little more adult than girls at the same age. Girls are often coddled and assumed to be more innocent than boys, so it follows that parents would also assume they have less need of walking-around cash. Hopefully this news will cause some parents to pause and reassess all the subtle ways girls are still told they’re worth less than boys and take measures to correct the problem.