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.