June marked the 50th year since President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act—an effort to get the government and companies to pay women as much as men for the same work. And yet, half a century later, women earn on average 77 cents for every dollar men earn. (Perhaps you need a visual of what that pay gap for women looks like.)
The 23-cent lag is actually an improvement over the decades. And we've figured out that it's not just sexist bosses offering lower pay that's the problem. The nation's lack of structural support for families in the workplace means women get dinged for becoming and being mothers.
But there's another wage gap out there possibly setting the stage for all of this: how kids are paid at home. Multiple recent studies found that not only do girls get less allowance than boys overall, but that they're also doing more work per week than boys on average—two whole hours per week more!
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Now, I know it's amazing to even think kids are doing any kind of work at all, considering how chores and home responsibilities have sort of changed in the last generations. Where I live in Southern California, one is hard-pressed to find kids mowing the lawn, since most people underpay a gardener to do that. Same with cleaning bathrooms.
Yet, even though chores have changed and lightened and disappeared a bit in the U.S., a pernicious sexism persists all over the world. Soraya Chemaly writes in Salon that Highlights magazine found in a 2009 survey that only 65 percent of boys surveyed did chores, while 75 percent of girls did. Other studies have found that job assignments are falling into classically gendered categories.
Parents value the boys' chores more highly than the girls' chores.
Chores such as driveway shoveling and lawn mowing are being assigned to boys, while laundry folding and dishwasher emptying are going to the girls. Even more concerning: Chemaly reports that parents value the boys' chores more highly than the girls' chores. A bouncing baby gender gap is born!
Chemaly's piece is a big ol' wake-up call, even for liberal feminist families like mine—we have two daughters and a son. A recent Pew study found that boys who grew up with sisters were less likely to share in the domestic duties as adults than boys who grew up with only brothers. Ew!
All of this to say: While women lean in and ask for raises at work and more flexible schedules and fewer stares directly into their cleavage, parents also need to see what's happening at home and make sure we're not pre-undermining progress with inadvertently sexist behavior.
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One way might be to pay a flat-fee allowance. (In my house, kids get half their age in dollars. Yeah, we're cheapskates.) Or perhaps the gender gap fix is to not tie allowance to specific chores and also to actually write down a chore chart to make sure Ella's getting a turn with the shovel and Rocco tries his hand regularly with a basket of whites.
Parents, for all intents and purposes, are kids' first bosses. We should probably be the change we want our kids to see, right?