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Fight the Gender Wage Gap: Stop Paying Kids for Chores

Research suggests that the girls are paid less to do chores than boys. Here's a clean solution: Don't pay kids to do household work.

A recent New York Times story caused a stir among readers when it reported research suggesting the gender pay gap starts long before men and women are even employable. In fact, the gender pay gap starts at home with the chore gap. Not only are girls tasked with doing more household chores than boys, they are paid less by parents for equal work. What’s more, the trend is consistent across socioeconomic classes. That means yet another generation of young women is being primed to accept that their labor is worth less than male labor — often by avowed feminists and progressive types unaware of their private hypocrisy. Fortunately, there’s a clear solution to the problem: Give boys and girls equal unpaid household chores and don’t pay them.

The Times insight into America’s childhood pay gap comes from an analysis of two sources. The first source is the American Time Use Survey which revealed that girls aged 15 to 19 years old spend on average 15 percent more time doing chores such as cooking, cleaning, yard care and pet care than boys the same age. That revelation becomes even more damning in light of data on the pay gap, collected by chore management app BusyKid. The company, which helps parents dole out and pay for chores, reported in a recent news release that their own analysis showed, “On average, boys earned twice as much for doing chores per week than girls, and were awarded larger bonuses by parents.”

Chores have always been a somewhat fraught topic between children and parents. After all, nobody likes to do them. But researchers have long suggested that giving children chores from the earliest ages is beneficial for a child’s entire life. A longitudinal study from the University of Minnesota, for instance, found that chores helped children develop a strong work ethic, resilience, and confidence while leading to better school performance and higher wages. Notably, both girls and boys see the same types of outcomes. Whether or not chores are good isn’t really up for debate. Just payment.

It’s fair to ask why the solution to the chore wage gap wouldn’t simply be equal pay, the assumed solution to the corporate/adult wage gap. There is an answer to that question. Here it is: Regardless of whether or not kids are being paid as kids, girls will grow into women who will still be expected to do more unpaid labor than men (often in the household, sometimes not). To solve the problem writ large, treating girls fairly isn’t enough. It’s critical to make boys understand that unpaid labor is a fact of life. If they internalize that idea, they will, over the course of their working and home lives, even things out for women because that will simply seem natural.

There’s also the pure logic of the thing. There is no reason for young children to be paid for emptying the dishwasher, starting a load of laundry, vacuuming or dusting. These are tasks children should be happy to do as a means of supporting the family (even if they express that happiness by sulking) and making life easier for their parents. That will be their perspective if it’s all they’ve ever known.

Is it important to teach a kid about money? Again, the answer is yes. But paying for chores is teaches a bad lesson about earning. In real life, you don’t get paid to do the dishes. Not all labor comes with a cash incentive. It’s actually healthier to offer an allowance, which is easily understood as a gift, and provide help with managing that money than it is to pay kids to do household work.

All that said, the gender pay gap is a product of culture and culture tends to evolve slowly and then very fast. To date, efforts (largely unpaid) have been made to close the gap, which remains stubbornly consistent. Why? Parental leave and maternity issues in the workplace are surely part of it, but parental expectations inform how executives and workers approach these hurdles. Today’s parents have a responsibility to end the cycle of gender bias in their own homes. And with enough effort, the result will be a generation of men and women who respect one another’s labor and expect equity both at work and at home.