The Wage Gap Starts in Childhood

Aly Mance, WLP Intern

Parents do their best to be good role models for their children; and for generations, they have given their children chores to do in exchange for an allowance in order to teach them responsibility and work ethic.  Sadly though, at a very young age, their children are also learning firsthand about the gender wage gap.  According to a recent article in Salon, parents are inadvertently teaching their daughters that their work is worth less than that of their sons.

A 2006 study conducted by University of Michigan economists found that girls spent two more hours per week doing chores than boys in a study of 3,000 kids.  Boys are enjoying more leisure time than their sisters, an imbalance that continues into adulthood.  According to the Organization of Economic Co-Operation and Development, men “report spending more time in activities counted as leisure than women.”

Not only are boys spending less time weekly on chores than girls, they are also making more money when they do them.  Boys’ chores appear to be more profitable, and parents deem the work done by boys to be more valuable than the chores done by girls —demonstrated by the fact that boys make more money per week than girls while working 2 hours less per week.  Boys tend to be assigned jobs like mowing the lawn, taking the trash out, or shoveling snow from the driveway; whereas girls tend to do indoor chores such as washing the dishes, cleaning bedrooms, or doing the laundry.  Parents find the work that boys do outside of the home more important and valuable than the traditionally “feminine” chores that girls do within the home.

These ideas and attitudes are perpetuated into adulthood.  A study conducted by Andrew Healy and Neil Mahorta shows that men who grow up with sisters do less housework than their wives.  This suggests that the gender separated chore environment from their childhood permanently altered their conception of gender roles.  It continues to reinforce the centuries-old idea that women battle every day in the working world: women belong in the home.  By telling children that girls do the dishes while boys take out the trash and that girls sweep the floors while boys shovel the driveways, parents make it clear that girls belong in the home, while boys belong outside of it.  A woman can’t “do a man’s job,” and she will always be paid and valued less for doing the same or more work.  They make it clear to their children that a woman’s work will always carry less worth than a man’s.

So here’s what parents should be doing: equally divide up the chores and equally pay each child. The same way that chores can reinforce traditional gender roles, sexism, and society’s acceptance of the wage gap, they can be used to develop egalitarian attitudes towards gender.  Ask your daughters to mow the lawn and your sons to fold the towels.  It could help reshape society and end the idea of traditional gender roles that support the wage gap.

About womenslawproject

The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
This entry was posted in Economic Justice, Equal pay, Gender Discrimination, Girls, Sexism, Wage Gap and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.