The gender pay gap exists among children


Every time the gender pay gap is mentioned I feel like slamming my head against my desk. From testosterone-charged op-eds to well-meaning summits, we're constantly being told that ‘women earn less because they work less’, or that we're less 'ambitious' and don't push hard enough for a pay rise. 

Which is to say it's our fault, really. For acquiescing to a lesser salary package in exchange for the 'luxury' of a more flexible work life; and for holding ourselves back, when we should be Leaning In.

But what if I told you the pay gap begins way before we enter the labour force? Before we had the slightest inkling of what 'inequality' even means? 

In a new study commissioned by Westpac, we learn that the gender pay gap starts years before women’s first jobs. It begins in the home — with pocket money.


Westpac Kids and Money Report, a national survey commissioned to support the launch of Westpac’s new iPhone App Pay Pig, reveals that on average boys earn $48.00 per week in pocket money compared to $45.00 for girls.

And that old chestnut that ‘men earn more because they work more’ turns out to be as much bollocks when applied to little people as it for big people. 

After hundreds of online interviews with parents of children aged 4–18 years across Australia, researchers found that boys spend less time doing household chores than girls (2.1 hours for boys versus 2.7 hours for girls).

The research also showed that the gendered nature of work begins early, with girls undertaking domestic duties such as the dishes and cleaning, while boys do outdoor tasks, such as mowing the lawn and taking out the garbage.

Tasking boys with work outside the home (even if it is just outside) and then assigning more value to those tasks normalizes the toxic belief the grown women battle every day — that ‘women’s work’ or unpaid domestic work is less important than ‘man’s work’.

Sadly it would appear that girls have indeed internalise the belief that their work is not highly valued, with a 2011 UK survey conducted by Halifax revealing that, ‘Girls (53%) are more content with the amount they receive than boys (48%)’. 

Girls also save less than boys, putting away 25 per cent of their weekly income ($11.40) compared with boys saving 29 per cent of their weekly pocket money ($14.10).

Earning less and saving less is a pattern that follows women throughout their careers and into retirement with dire consequences, condemning many women to live in poverty.

Half of all women aged 45 to 59 have $8,000 or less in their superannuation funds, and the average superannuation payout for women is a third of the payout for men — $37,000 compared with $110, 000.

In most families this inequality in workload, earnings and savings is probably not deliberate.

‘We’re sure parents aren’t intentionally paying sons more than daughters for the chores they complete,’ says Gai McGrath, Westpac’s General Manager of Retail Banking.

‘It maybe more a case of them having an unstructured pocket money system that sees them give the kids $5 here and $10 there, which means no one is keeping track of the amount the child is paid and for what chore in particular,’ she says.

But that’s even more concerning. It’s pretty hard to fight against inequality when we don’t even realise that it’s happening right under our noses and by our own hands. Perhaps the workforce gender pay gap denialists should consider that they too are oblivious to the inequality.

The thing is, pocket money isn’t just pocket money. In a culture where money is the final arbiter of what’s valued, paying girls less than boys sends a powerful message that girls and women’s work just isn’t as valuable as boys. We’re teaching girls that they are worth less than boys; that their labour is worth less and that they shouldn’t expect more.

It’s also a form of economic socialisation, informally teaching girls and women about money. This is perhaps why researchers who have examined financial literacy education have found that girls tend to have lower confidence than boys in managing money.

We may not be able to control the gender pay gap at work, but we can control it in our homes. If we want our girls to earn the same as men, then we first need to raise them to believe that they are entitled to it.

Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 4 books 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child.


  • I am the youngest of three siblings - an older sister and brother.

    Once we turned thirteen, we were given an allowance. We were expected to buy almost everything we needed with this allowance (besides food, shelter and school expenses) - clothes, toiletries, entertainment, treats, etc. I think the idea was good, but my mother always topped up my brother's allowance when he had spent it all, because she reckoned that boys needed more money for "things". Go figure.

    My parents did not factor in inflation, so I actually ended up getting less. And I was the youngest to leave home (at seventeen), so I didn't cost my parents that much.

    But it's interesting to note that 35 years later my brother still hasn't got a clue how to manage money.

    Date and time
    July 24, 2013, 8:15AM
    • Does this survey take into account what was spent on girls versus boys. In my family, when growing up, we got the same amount of pocket money but the girls had more money spent on them. Now I have a family and I find my wife spending more money on the girls then the boys. The boys tend to want bigger ticket items but its the constant purchasing of little things that drives the spending pattern a whole lot higher for the girls than the boys. I haven't been able to ascertain why.

      Don't Know
      Date and time
      July 24, 2013, 11:32AM
    • Totally agree, Don't Know. My daughter has a million little knick knacks, some of which she bought herself from doing more chores than my son (she only does the chores because she wants the money) and some because my wife seems to think she needs them.

      As to the article, I wonder if the results had been the other way around if the author would have (a) written it and (b) argued there is bias against boys. It's like the recent "proof" that women are paid less, as female graduate Dentists received less than men. Of course, it only looked at undergraduates under age 22. For ALL graduates of all ages and all courses, women earned MORE than men on average. But hey, lets not let facts get in the way of a good outrage!!

      Date and time
      July 24, 2013, 12:50PM
    • Rob, Don't Know,

      I won't disagree with you because I am sure there are families where this is the case. But in our family it was not so, because this was an allowance which we had to use to buy things for ourselves. So we all went to the same school, got the same food, etc. I spent an awful lot more on essential monthly toiletries than my brother ever did, so based on that fact alone, I did not understand my mother's reasoning.

      Before we turned thirteen, we got given very much the same things. Our clothes were home-made and presents were often family presents, such as family holidays.

      There have been a lot of posters carrying on about chores. This allowance did not take into account any chores that we did. In fact, my brother and I were expected to do chores (the same types of chores) but my sister was not expected to because she was the eldest and according to my father, she apparently had special privileges we did not.

      But the unfairness I suffered taught me a lot about life, so it's probably done me a lot of good!

      Date and time
      July 24, 2013, 1:32PM
    • Wow, pocket money has sure gone up since I was a kid... even allowing for inflation! My younger brother and I each got 5 bucks a week - that was the end of it. We each had expected chores to do, but they were simply taking it in turns to do the dishes, vacuum, make our own beds, etc

      I do remember he and I had very different approaches when it came to saving for big things - my brother would painstakingly save his allowance for a year to buy a new nintendo console and a couple of games. For me, there was a deep pink dress I had my heart set on which was over 100 bucks - I begged them for a re-negotiation since I was worried that dress would be gone by the time I saved for it. My parents got me to sit down and draw up a list of 'extra' chores I was willing to do, and a suggested value for doing each one - a dollar to dust the lounge, 70 cents to polish the wooden tables, etc. We haggled over the amounts and I was able to layby and purchase my dress in six weeks.

      Come to think of it, I approached my recent promotion and payrise at work in much the same manner...

      Disgruntled Goat
      Date and time
      July 24, 2013, 1:49PM
    • Agree with disgruntled goat - who can afford to pay each child $45 to $48 every week!

      Date and time
      July 24, 2013, 6:26PM
  • $45 vs vs $48... pretty much statistically irrelevant.

    Are you suggesting that ALL work is equal and that we should all be paid the same? Sorry to disappoint you but this is capitalism.

    FWIW, i'd rather was dishes for 3 hours than pull cables underneath a house or mow lawns for 3 hours. Why would i rather wash dishes? It's easier.

    Date and time
    July 24, 2013, 8:15AM
    • +1

      "I love bin juice" - said no one, ever.

      Mowing the lawn - total pain in the you know what.

      Let me see, doing the dishes? Stack it into the washer. Switch on. Doing the laundry? Put into washer/dryer. Switch on.

      Give me indoor domestic chores any day.

      Also, whose parents gave them an allowance? Geez. I got my first job at 13 and have worked every year of my life since then....

      Date and time
      July 24, 2013, 10:02AM
    • For once I agree with you.

      The first two paragraphs were correct. The rest wasn't

      It's easier to push a vacuum cleaner around than a lawn mower. It's easier to sweep a broom than to rake up leaves.

      It's easy to load a washing machine and turn it on than to clean out the gutters.

      The difficulty of work isn't the only determinant of the price of labour but it is a factor (other factors can include, but are not limited to, the amount of profit generated by the role, the qualifications necessary to do the role, the amount of experience necessary to do the role, the difficulty of obtaining qualifications, the amount of competitive candidates for the role, the risk of physical harm, what other employers are offering for a similar role, the amount of responsibility required by the role, the critical risk weighting to the business inherent to the role). There is no gender bias in this. Capitalism is blind to everything except profit and that's how it should be.

      Date and time
      July 24, 2013, 10:08AM
    • I love this argument - you just conveniently forgot that inside work needs to be done at a much higher frequency than outdoor chores. Dishes are washed twice a day - you mow the lawn say once every few weeks? When you look at it like that, I would sure as hell prefer to be the one who gets to mow the lawn. Emptying the bin is barely even a task. It's like bragging about picking up your plate after you've finished eating dinner.

      Real World
      Date and time
      July 24, 2013, 11:04AM

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