A Look At Life: Pocket Money

31st October 2014

What’s It Worth? The great pocket money debate…

Claire Moulds

According to the Halifax’s annual pocket money survey, not only do more boys receive pocket money than girls (84% v 79%) but they also get, on average, 5% extra per week. At a time when the gender pay gap is a hot topic of debate once more (with Labour warning that, at the current rate of change, it will take another 60 years before women earn the same as men) maybe it’s time to look beyond the workplace and identify exactly when the ‘economic worth’ of the two sexes first begins to deviate.

After all, if little girls are already lagging behind little boys in the pay stakes when it comes to pocket money, should we really be surprised that women then go on to earn just 80p for every pound that men take home? From ‘Equal Pay Day’ on 7 November until the end of the year women who work full time are effectively working for free compared to their male counterparts.

Worryingly, the Halifax survey also revealed that pocket money is linked to traditional gender roles: more girls than boys receive their money in return for helping around the house, including tidying, washing up and cleaning.
If parents operate a ‘do housework to earn your pocket money’ approach with their da
ughters then that instantly sends a very strong message to girls – and boys – about who is responsible for what in life. By bringing money into the equation it also reinforces ‘the system’ – the division of labour – and gives it a stamp of authority.

No wonder so many women lament the fact that their other half won’t ‘help’ them around the house. If a man has grown up watching their mum and sister doing those chores – and being ‘paid’ for them – why would they think it was their job? Our daughters are finding themselves enmeshed in a lower paid, domestic role from an early age while our sons are learning that the ‘home’ and ‘keeping it nice’ is a woman’s responsibility – however young she is.

Is this the reason that so many women are simply resigned to undertaking the ‘second shift’ of unpaid domestic chores and childcare when they come home from work? After all, if you’ve grown up earning less pocket money than your male peers for doing more chores, surely it’s then ingrained in you, as a girl, not to expect a fair deal in life?

Interestingly, the survey also showed that boys were more likely to feel that they deserved more money, with 47% of boys aged 8-11 feeling ‘short changed’. In a direct reflection of the workplace, it is little boys who feel they are worth more and who are most vocal about it, in the same way that men are more likely to ask for a salary increase than their female colleagues.

Governments, organisations and businesses are already trying to make the workplace a level playing field for men and women. Perhaps they should also be focusing on educating children (and their parents) on the fluid nature of gender roles – how the word ‘girl’ doesn’t automatically mean ‘must do the cleaning and the caring’ and how both sexes have an equal responsibility for earning a living, maintaining a home and raising children.
In particular, parents need to be aware of the assumptions they make – ‘I didn’t ask Amy to help me and her brother in the garden as I didn’t think she’d want to get muddy’; of treating their sons and daughters differently – ‘Sally can help me with the dishes while you and your Dad go and watch the football on TV’; and of the language they use – ‘mowing the lawn is a much harder job than hoovering the house’.

They also need to instil a sense of worth in young girls so that they not only expect to receive a fair day’s pay but are prepared to ask for it. Moreover, we need to teach young boys that their sisters, female friends and future partners all deserve to be paid the same as them so that, when they enter the world of employment, they refuse to accept any form of inequality. It will take the efforts of both men and women to fully close the gender pay gap.

The Equal Pay Act is now 44 years old. While we’re moving in the right direction, it is at a snail’s pace, with the Act on course to celebrate its centenary before true equality is achieved. However, if we start to tackle the issue in the early home environment, as well as in the workplace, and include boys as well as girls in the campaign, then we might just shave a few decades off that latest prediction.

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