The gender wage gap may begin with children’s allowances

Playtime or a chores strike?
Playtime or a chores strike?
Image: Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
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A new study from the maker of a kids’ allowance app suggests the gender pay gap may begin in childhood, at least in homes where children are fortunate enough to get weekly handouts from their parents.

According to one year of data from 10,000 families who use the BusyKid app, parents give girls an average $6.71 per week, about half the $13.80 boys received.

To be sure, the study results—which the company published on its blog—are not scientific. In 2015, researchers from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research did find that boys earn more for fewer tasks, but the gap they found in pay for chores wasn’t nearly as large. And, oddly, the allowance gap is the only dramatic split in the BusyKids report. Apparently boys and girls save equal amounts (about $24-$25 per week) and tend to spend comparable sums, too.

Still, the idea that a large gender gap exists in allowances doesn’t seem extremely far fetched. The actual wage pay gap is the tardigrade of economic injustices: so persistent that it almost inspires awe. Perhaps we do need to spend more time searching for its earliest roots.

Studies have shown the notions we inherit from parents, or our social environment, shape which toys we play with as girls or boys, and thus which skills we believe we ought to value. Indeed, our early experiences can warp our perception of reality in astonishing ways. According to a study published last year in Science, for instance, by age six, girls believe boys are more likely to be “brilliant.”

In an interview with CNN, BusyKid CEO Gregg Murset reasoned that parents do tend to sort chores by gender, which may explain the allowance gender gap. “Harder jobs typically require a little bit more pay,” he said. “If you’re going to mow a lawn for three hours, that’s a beast, a tough job. Maybe us as parents are giving our girls chores in the house that don’t take two or three hours outside, and there’s a difference in the pay scale.”

With this logic, it’s easy to imagine a scenario where two children in one family start off at the same “wage” at a certain age, but see their allowances drift apart in time, as the boy is pointed to tasks perceived as masculine.

In other words, perhaps the pay gap in allowances is the workplace pay gap writ small.