This article appears in October Family magazine.
The gender pay gap starts at home. A new study finds that girls do more chores yet are paid less than boys. Can this lead to an inequality in pay for women in the workforce?
The Maryland Population Resource Center looked at the chores and wages of kids ages 15 to 19 and found that girls do about 45 minutes of housework a day while boys do 30 minutes per day. Girls were more likely to be paid for cleaning, while boys were paid for life skills such as taking a shower or brushing their teeth.
The research was based on American Time Use Survey diaries between 2003 and 2014 of more than 6,000 high school students.
Another study by BusyKid, a mobile app finance tool that helps kids learn how to save, spend and invest, found similar differences.
“Girls are paid differently than boys on chores they perform,” said Mike Prusinski, president of BusyKid. “Our study (of about 10,000 families) showed that there were some chores that both boys and girls performed where boys were paid more. There’s no reason for it, they just were.”
The gap in how much boys and girls earn — and do — for chores is narrowing in America, said Frank Stafford, research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. It’s not that girls are doing less housework now, it’s that boys are catching up.
“The amount of time boys spend doing chores is going up while the amount of time girls spend doing chores is staying level,” Stafford said.
Across a range of countries, girls do more household chores than boys, said Christia Spears Brown, a psychology professor at the University of Kentucky.
“Girls are also much more likely to do excessive household chores, defined as more than 28 hours in a week, than boys are,” she said.
Parents assign chores differently when it comes to boys and girls.
“For example, girls are more likely than boys to work inside the home doing household chores such as cleaning and cooking, child care and elder care. Boys are more likely to do outside chores or home repair or no chores at all,” Brown said. “These gendered divisions appear as early as kindergarten and continue throughout childhood and adolescence.”
Early pay differences matter because children grow up and replicate what they experienced at home.
“Children seem to reflect parents’ attitudes, and the effects are long-lasting,” Brown said.
In a 31-year longitudinal study, published in 2001 in the Journal of Marriage and Family, researchers found that 18-year-olds were more likely to believe in an equal division of chores when their mothers held more gender-equal attitudes when they were young children. Later, when those children were in their 30s, boys whose fathers participated in more “feminine” household tasks (like child care and cleaning the kitchen) did the same as adults.
“In other words, when parents were more gender-equal within the family, their children grew up to be more gender-equal in adulthood,” Brown said.
In 2018, despite equal hours in outside employment, mothers spend about twice the amount of time on child care and housework as do fathers, Brown sad.
“That is a lot of extra work that women are doing compared to men. So when parents assign more chores to girls than boys, those differences get perpetuated into adulthood with women still doing the bulk of household chores,” she said.
“Parents need to stop looking at chores and allowance in the traditional sense and begin looking at them as an opportunity for a child to gain valuable work experience before facing the real world,” Prusinski said.