Chances are, if you have kids, there is a wage gap in your house. Consider these facts:
Girls do more chores and for longer periods of time. In A 2009 study, University of Michigan economists found a two-hour gender disparity in responsibilities per week in a study of 3,000 kids. That same year, Highlights magazine, a children's publication, surveyed its readers and found that 75% of girls had chores, while just 65% of boys did.
Boys are paid an allowance more often. Last year, a Junior Achievement study revealed that boys are 15% more likely to be paid an allowance for doing chores. When kids get pocket money, boys tend to get paid more.
Boys are paid more to do chores and their work is more profitable to them. Parents tend to value the work that boys typically do more highly than the work girls do. In one study, boys averaged $48 for 2.1 hours of work, compared to girls' $45 for 2.8 hours.
Boys' labor is valued more highly than girls'. For example, mowing the lawn generally garners higher allowance wages than folding laundry. Shoveling a snow-covered driveway might yield more cash in hand than emptying the dishwasher. A website that helps parents teach children how to earn, spend and save responsibly, pktmny, found "significant divides based on gender, age and the nature of the task being undertaken by each child," according to Louise Hill, COO of the company. In addition, boys are paid more to do jobs that girls are often expected to do and do more often. For example, when boys babysit, their pay is higher.
Boy's work more easily translates into more diverse opportunities to make money out of the home. Traditionally feminine chores -- folding, dishwashing, vacuuming -- take place in the house, and traditionally masculine ones like mowing the neighbors' lawns, paper routes or walking dogs take place outside. Girls can and do leave the house, and babysitting is the most common example. Many girls also do "boy" jobs, like shoveling snow. For the most part, though, feminized work is focused inside and not as readily commodified for teenagers.
Boys, on average, spend two fewer hours doing household chores per week than girls do. They get two more hours of playing. In effect, a gendered transfer of leisure time that establishes pattern for life. According to the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), men "report spending more time in activities counted as leisure than women. Gender differences in leisure time are wide across OECD countries." In the U.S., men, on average, have five more hours a week for free conscious activity than their female peers.
Girls' provision of free domestic care frees boys to develop other skills with long-term effects. For example, when girls are expected to stay home and take care of younger siblings, boys are able to participate in after-school sports programs, which contributes to a gendered skill and leadership divide. Lower-income girls are particularly affected by this expectation.
These disparities, expectations, stereotypes and biases track straight from childhood chores at home to adult jobs in the public sphere, all over the world. Adult work is highly sex segregated, and women's work is almost always lower status and lower paid. Men dominate in higher wage fields and when they enter traditionally female-dominated ones, salaries go up, conversely, when women move into male-dominated fields, they go down. A job category's status is also reduced when women change the demographics in a field. The $48/2.1 hours versus $45/2.8 hours turns into what Wall Street Journal financial expert Manisha Thakor calls "The 77/11 Effect" on lifetime earnings: Joe ends up with twice Jane's retirement savings.
This way of reproducing gender, sex-segregated work and unequal pay is mainly undone only in single parent households. The gendered distribution of work in homes happens in families with different or same-sex parents. In single parent households, boys do more chores than in others and everyone does more gender atypical domestic labor. Children with parents who do gender atypical chores emulate them and are more likely to take their atypical gender schemes to work with them, which makes the societal impact of single parent households even more subversive.
It is unsurprising that there is a much stronger desire among men for traditional gender roles at home. Pew found that 37% of men want stay-at-home wives, compared to 11% of women who wanted to be stay-at-home wives. This is the model for a familiar and efficient economic unit that traditionally recognizes men's income generation as centrally important, while ignoring the toll it takes on men personally, as well as the gender wealth transfer represented by women's provision of invisible, unpaid care labor.
One of the systemic issues we face is that men (overwhelmingly the case, see below) who hold these attitudes are seriously over-represented in the very places where we need change the most -- legislatures and the corporate world. For example, research conducted by the Families and Work Institute revealed that 75 percent of 1,200 male executives men surveyed had stay-at-home wives. Fortune 1000 companies, more than 85% have male only boards. A study on marriage structure, gender and work, Sreedhari D. Desai, Dolly Chugh and Arthur Brief, concluded:
Employed husbands in traditional marriages, compared to those in modern marriages, tend to (a) view the presence of women in the workplace unfavorably, (b) perceive that organizations with higher numbers of female employees are operating less smoothly, (c) find organizations with female leaders as relatively unattractive, and (d) deny, more frequently, qualified female employees opportunities for promotion.
What does this have to do with chores? Two things: 1) Men who grow up with sisters, especially younger sisters, do less housework than their spouses and are also significantly more socially conservative. In their study of this issue, Andrew Healy and Neil Malhotra found that men with sisters are 17 percent more likely to report that they do less housework than their female spouses 2) The greatest predictor of a girl's having high professional aspirations and landing a job with a larger salary is whether or not a father did chores at home. The study did not track same sex parents, but research that shows how same sex parents sex segregate chores in equal measure suggest that the same dynamic would exist in terms of who does chores coded "masculine" and "feminine."
Fathers are, in the words of researchers, "gatekeepers" of their daughter's ambitions. Fathers have to put in the time at home doing chores with their kids, especially daughters. Paying lip service to "equality" isn't good enough. Writ large, this is the difference between Republican's standing to applaud President Obama's support for equal pay in last year's State of the Union and failing to do the same this year, when concrete plans were included.
The facts of our enduring (sexed and raced) wage gap are just that, facts. Nonetheless, people "debate" them. What is actually being debated, however, isn't whether the gap exists, but why it persists. What people tend to say when they argue that "there is no wage gap," is that women "choose" lower paying jobs and, apples-to-apples, women are not paid less as the result of overt sexism. They also tend to conveniently ignore race.
The five primary reasons for the wage gap can all be seen in how household chores are distributed: 1) persistent sex segregation of the workforce; 2) the devaluation of women's work and overvaluation of men's work; 3) implicit bias and stereotype threat that remain largely unexamined; 4) a systemic failure to recognize the economic value of women's provision of care work and 5) good, old-fashioned discrimination. People making "no-wage-gap-motherhood-the-most-important-job-in-the-world" arguments aren't interested in the root causes of sex-segregated work, or why men's work is always higher paying. (Men earn more than women in 527 of the 534 jobs tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.) Nor have I ever seen serious responses to studies that routinely show that women are, in fact, offered less money to do the same work, or work categorized as similar. (Among 135 countries, the US ranks 67th for "wage equality for similar work" between men and women.) And while race is clearly substantively consequential, within each racial category gender gaps exist.
So, the bad news is these childhood scripts continue to lay the groundwork for making domestic work less valued, for prioritizing men's careers over women's, for persistent workforce sex segregation and for gendered gaps in lifetime wages and time allocation.
The good news, however, is that chores also provide a simple way for parents to foster egalitarian attitudes and long-term gender equity. A simple, good place to start, within everyone's reach, is at home, with kids. I know that some people will read the facts above and the use of the word "boys" as an attack on male children, which is, frankly, stupid and unhelpful. Individual boys may not feel that this is the reality in their homes, because for many, it isn't. However, the problem remains, and is a big one. The point is to understand it and do something, which requires thinking about these facts and using the words "boys" and "girls" to describe them. Here are some ideas:
- As a parent, make a point of engaging your kids in gender-atypical chores and tell them why you are doing it. They frequently go to school and come back with unhelpful information about which jobs "belong" to whom.
Portions of this post update a related article published in Salon in August of 2013.