Gender gap in pay begins with children’s allowances, app maker’s analysis suggests

The gender pay gap might start as early as childhood, according to an unscientific analysis of how much boys and girls are paid for chores. (Photo by Roy Luck via Creative Commons)

PHOENIX – Parents pay boys a weekly allowance twice as high as they give girls, according to a study from a Phoenix-area company that sells an app to track children’s chores, allowances and finances.

Boys averaged nearly $14 a week, while girls averaged almost $7, according to a data analysis of BusyKid’s app’s 10,000 users.

The company looked at compensation parents gave their children ages 5-17. In addition to the discrepancy in average weekly allowance, the company found that boys were given higher bonuses than girls – $17.01 compared with $15.54, according to the company website.

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Boys also saved and spent more money than girls every month, while girls shared more of their money with charities. BusyKid’s Gregg Murset, chief executive and a father of six, said that’s because girls are more nurturing.

But the gender gap on weekly allowances was a surprise, he said.

“Frankly, I was super-depressed at the results,” Murset said.

Gender roles run deep

That the long-bemoaned gender pay gap starts early did not surprise one expert.

“These gender roles run so deep in our society that it can be hard to escape them, even in the home,” said Julia Bear, a business professor who studies negotiation and the gender pay gap at Stony Brook University in New York.

An Institute for Women’s Policy Institute study showed that women in the U.S. made 81.8 cents for every dollar men made in 2017.

The statistics for women of color are even more dire, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Black women earn 63 cents per dollar compared with white men; Latinas make 54 cents per dollar.

Bear noted the BusyKid study isn’t scientific – it doesn’t have diverse demographics, such as income levels, because parents pay to use the app – but said the high volume of users is a trustworthy sample size and should spur further study.

Bear said negotiation tactics could be to blame for the allowance disparity, adding that parents are much more open to boys being assertive and asking for more money.

Bear said most men and women “end up at one extreme or another. Either they’re sort of really, almost aggressive, or they’re just totally passive and they completely avoid any type of negotiation or conflict management.”

Women are more likely to avoid all negotiating, according to a study from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Women and Public Policy Program. And women are more likely to avoid job ads where the salary is listed as “negotiable.”

Bear said parents should ask themselves whether “when their daughters are assertive they’re responding negatively, but when their sons are assertive they’re responding positively.”

Boys gain hygiene advantage

Murset said his company found two possible reasons for the wage disparity: lack of hygiene and availability of chores.

Boys frequently were paid to maintain hygiene while girls were not, Murset said.

“Is that stupid? Yeah. I get it,” Murset said. “But if that’s a personal struggle that you’re having with your boy right now, then I understand incentivizing them to do it.”

Boys were also more likely to do more strenuous, time-consuming work outdoors than girls, he said. Such manual work often is deemed worthy of higher pay from parents and from employers.

Economists refer to traditionally female work, including childcare and nursing, as “pink-collar jobs.” According to the Center for American Progress, such jobs pay less than traditionally male jobs.

Murset said he pays his children based on such factors as effort and time spent. He said he pays less for work like doing dishes because it takes less time than washing cars and is inside rather than outdoors.

His oldest daughter was the one who trimmed the landscape outside the home.

If girls are given less time-consuming work and only indoor chores, they’ll make less money, Murset said.

Advice to ‘work a little harder’

Bear and Murset said the allowance disparity is unintentional.

“I don’t think that this is a vast conspiracy against our girls,” Murset said, but he and Bear urged parents to talk with their children about money and gender.

“I think a conversation about gender pay discrimination should be part of a larger conversation about gender roles, about stereotyping,” Bear said. “I think it should be a conversation about not being afraid to ask for what you’re worth, not being afraid to be assertive.”

But Jeni Cohen, a parent of five who works in real estate, said she did not want to “preset my kids’ minds to think that they’re going to get treated differently.”

“I don’t know that I would set them up to feel angry about it or to be looking for that difference; I don’t know that I would have that conversation with my daughter,” Cohen said. “I feel like it’s kind of ruining their innocence.”

However, Cohen is aware that she unconsciously could be contributing to outdated gender roles in her home.

“I’m interested in looking at tasks I assign to each kid,” she said. “Am I subconsciously giving one more than the other or is that divided up unfairly based on the genders?”

Cohen’s eldest daughter, Jocelyn Cohen, 21, is a preschool teacher and plans to pursue a doctorate in children’s psychology. She doesn’t fault her mother for not wanting to talk about pay discrimination based on gender.

“It is a real thing that does happen, but I think as a child I would have been probably really confused about it,” Jocelyn Cohen said, adding that she learned about pay disparities in high school.

She remembers complaining about her chores as a child but now believes she was paid a fair allowance compared with her brother. Her mother granted an allowance based on her children’s ages – $1 per week for each year.

Jocelyn Cohen doesn’t have children yet but said her future self might bring up gender pay discrimination.

“Maybe for my daughter I could let her know you need to work a little harder if you want to be as successful,” she said.