In an era when many parents make concerted efforts to ensure that boys and girls have equal opportunities, a recent analysis of American families showed that boys are paid twice as much allowance as girls for doing weekly chores, a trend that underscores the pervasiveness of gender stereotypes.
An analysis of 10,000 families across the U.S. showed that boys earned an average of $13.80 each week compared with $6.71 earned by girls, according to data compiled by BusyKid, an app and web platform that allows kids to receive, spend, donate or invest their allowance.
The findings surprised BusyKid executives, who purposely designed the technology to be “sex agnostic” and suggest chores for children based on only one criterion: age.
“As a father of both boys and girls, I think this is an important wake-up call for parents to be cognizant of what they are paying, to make sure they are being as fair as possible,” said Gregg Murset, CEO of Phoenix-based BusyKid.
Gender and sociology experts say the findings demonstrate a paradox in the movement to equalize experiences and compensation for men and women: Despite the progress that’s been made in recent decades, some of the very people who believe in treating genders equally also inadvertently perpetuate old-fashioned ways of thinking.
“I have no doubt these parents are not trying to re-create an unequal world for their kids to enter,” said Barbara Risman, a professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the author of “Where the Millennials Will Take Us: A New Generation Wrestles With the Gender Structure.”
“And yet they are,” Risman said.
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According to the analysis, boys averaged more allowance than girls because they were more often assigned chores considered more physically strenuous, including cutting the grass and trimming the bushes. Girls, meanwhile, were more often paid for jobs such as cleaning the toilet, loading the dishwasher or sweeping floors.
Boys also earned more money because they were paid for jobs girls were not paid for at all, including showering, and brushing and flossing their teeth.
“I don’t think this is a vast conspiracy against our daughters,” said Murset. “But it really is the way it is that boys have to be prodded on (personal hygiene) a little more.”
In Evanston, Ill., Vaishali Patel and her husband try hard to teach their two children — a 14-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl — that gender shouldn’t determine what chores they are assigned or what activities they choose in their free time. The parents don’t pay the children allowance, and instead expect both kids to help with all jobs around the house, from folding laundry to sweeping crumbs off the floor after dinner.
But despite these efforts, Patel said the children still pick up on old-fashioned gender stereotypes from elsewhere, pushing back when the parents encourage their daughter to steer away from predictable girls’ activities, or when they tell their son to try acting or dance classes in addition to the myriad sports he plays.
“He’s like, ‘No way am I doing that,’” said Patel. “Some of that is really hard to influence.”
The pervasiveness of old gender stereotypes can also be seen at Future Investor Clubs of America, a summer camp offered in Chicago and more than a dozen other U.S. cities each year to teach financial responsibility and wealth strategies to teens. In the 21 years that the camp has been offered, it has consistently enrolled mostly boys, despite efforts by camp management to recruit girls, said Frank Parks, founder of the camps.
There are 150 students attending the weeklong camps across the U.S. this summer, where they will take tours of financial districts and learn moneymaking strategies and other investing skills. Only 15 of the campers are girls, Parks said.
“It disappoints me, but it doesn’t surprise me,” Parks said. “That’s pretty much always been the case.”
Risman, who studies and teaches about gender identity and its impact on society at UIC, said that while Americans have come a long way in the last 50 years in terms of offering more equal opportunities for men and women, changing mindsets permanently takes even more time. The public may support the idea of allowing boys and girls to abandon gender stereotypes, but parents may still inadvertently fall into old habits, such as asking a son to cut the grass, or a girl to remain neat and clean, she said.
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“We have a long, historical, cultural tradition of this pattern,” Risman said. “Because what I call the gender structure is so embedded in our cultural logic … we reproduce it, even when we’d like to be challenging it.”
The best way to counter the patterns, Risman added, is to acknowledge, think about and discuss the way we approach gender roles as often as possible: “You can’t change behavior you have never noticed,” she said.
Michelle Icard, a parenting expert and author of “Middle School Makeover: Improving the Way You and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years,” said there is a biological explanation for why boys need to be incentivized to take a bath, floss their teeth and do other seemingly basic tasks that girls were not shown to be similarly rewarded for in the BusyKid analysis.
In middle school, development of the prefrontal cortex in both boys and girls leads them to be less organized — and the reconstruction process takes longer for the boys. So a boy may legitimately have a harder time getting motivated or completing seemingly basic tasks, Icard said.
That said, a better way to reinforce the behaviors would be to steer away from monetary incentives, and instead reward a boy with extra TV time or choosing what he eats for dinner, Icard said. Such incentives encourage behaviors without leaving girls in an inferior position.
“As a society, we’ve been moving in the right direction,” Icard said, adding that the BusyKid analysis will help to continue the growth. “Studies like this are great because they are eye-opening.”
In Naperville, Danielle Salerno said she is committed to doing her part to end gender stereotypes. As the mother of two girls, ages 6 and 7, Salerno said that although her children mostly see men coming to collect the garbage each week, that won’t preclude the girls from having to take out the trash as their weekly chore.
“My daughter doesn’t know that that’s a ‘boys’ job,’ or that it ever was or it could be,” Salerno said. “So she just puts on the gloves and does it.”