Girls Do More Chores and Get Paid Less: The Gender Gap Starts Early

Can it really be that a source of the stubborn gender wage gap in the workplace is how girls and boys are treated at home? Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times reports new research that supports this idea. What has the treatment of children in the home got to do with adults in the workplace? Researchers agree that one big reason for the gender pay gap is that because women often carry a bigger share of the responsibility for home maintenance and childcare, they may work fewer hours for some part of their career and fall behind men in pay and career advancement. Miller cites researchers as explaining that “achieving equality . . . will require not just preparing girls for paid work, but also teaching boys to do unpaid work.” The roles children play in the home growing up shape the roles they take as adults. Miller reports new studies that show “girls still spend more time on household chores. They are also paid less than boys for doing chores and have smaller allowances.” The gender pay gap, and the gaps in responsibility for housework start early. Here are some of the findings reported by Miller from these new research studies:

  • One study found that boys ages 15 to 19 do about half an hour of housework a day while girls do about forty-five minutes. Housework is defined as cooking, cleaning, pet care, yard care, and home and car maintenance.
  • Another study based on American Time Use Survey diaries between 2003 and 2014 of 6,358 high school students aged 15 to 19 found differences based on the education level of parents. College-educated parents expected daughters to spend slightly less time on chores than do parents with a high school education. Both sets of parents expect girls to spend more time than boys overall, and expectations for boys from both sets of parents have not changed.
  • Another study found that boys are paid more allowance for doing chores. This study analyzed 10,000 families using the chore app BusyKid and found that boys using the app earned twice what girls did for doing chores—$13.80 per week compared to $6.71 for girls.
  • This same study based on the BusyKid app also found that boys were more likely to be paid for personal hygiene like brushing their teeth or taking a shower while girls are paid for cleaning.
Scholars note that the gender gap for chores for children is worldwide. Miller cites Christia Spears Brown, a psychology professor at the University of Kentucky, as explaining, “Chores are really practice for adult living, so the problem is it just gets generationally perpetuated.” We need to become aware of the lessons and training we are giving our children about gender-role expectations if we are ever going to see gender equality in work and pay in the future. How do you handle this challenge in your family? Please share with us what works to equalize gender roles in your family.   Photo courtesy of David D (CC BY 2.0)]]>

Melinda Gates: The First Woman of Women

I found it inspiring to read in Forbes magazine that Melinda Gates, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has decided to put women and girls at the center of her focus to end poverty in the world. Other philanthropists and bankers (such as Muhammad Yunus, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for microloan practices that target women) have shown that investing in women results in significant improvement in the standard of living for families and communities. Caroline Howard writes in Forbes that Melinda Gates, who has $41.3 billion in foundation assets to invest, “has become the most powerful person on the planet whose singular focus is women and girls.” Gates explains that in looking for a woman who would champion issues of poverty for girls and women for the Gates Foundation, she eventually realized that she herself was the best person to do it. Her passion comes from knowing that

  • Women account for six out of ten of the world’s poorest people.
  • Women account for two-thirds of the illiterate population.
  • 58 percent of all primary school dropouts are girls. One year or more of primary school boosts a girl’s future wages by 10–20 percent.
  • The International Monetary Fund calculates that 3.9 million women and girls are “missing” annually: about two-fifths are never born; one-sixth die in early childhood; more than one-third die during their reproductive years.
  • 289,000 women died during pregnancy and childbirth in 2013.
  • Closing the employment and wage gap between men and women would increase women’s income by $17 trillion globally.
Gates sponsors a range of initiatives to alleviate poverty for women and girls that are all connected, such as
  • Family planning
  • Maternal and prenatal health
  • Infant health
  • Education
  • Microentrepreneurship
What can you do? The Gates Foundation is well funded, but there are many smaller foundations that are focused on alleviating poverty for girls and women in the developing world. These foundations need donations and volunteers to support their work. My favorite foundation is VGIF (Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund), and I encourage you to go to the Fund’s website and read about its work at A lot needs to be done for girls and women. Do you know of any foundations doing similar work? Let me know in the comments section.   Photo courtesy of Russell Watkins/Department for International Development (CC BY-SA 2.0)]]>

Indirect Aggression – Part 2

January was when I started my new role. Probably three months later, my old boss scheduled a yearly performance review with me, which was unusual for a lot of reasons. Normally, performance reviews are more timely. And she had her boss on the phone with her. She doesn’t like confrontation, so I felt like she was having him do it for her. She didn’t say a word the whole time. It was like she was just sitting in the background, listening.

I was just shocked to get a negative performance review, even though on paper my numbers looked good. It felt like a lot of things had transpired behind the scenes so that she could throw Kate under the bus.

For Kate, the indirect aggression happened when her boss threw Kate under the bus by undermining her behind the scenes and then having someone else deliver the bad news. One more example of behavior that is intended to be hurtful but is denied, using silence as a weapon, was demonstrated in one of the roleplays developed by research participants who were managers in state government. The aggression was indirect but quite mean in its intentions:

Four women who work together in an office have just come back from lunch. Marcia was not included in the outing.

“I’m stuffed,” declares Lee, puffing out her cheeks and dropping a container of leftover food on her desk.

“That was a good place to go,” notes Judy, suggesting that they go back again sometime.

Rose casually asks, seemingly to no one in particular, as she takes off her coat, “Do you want to go out after work today?”

Lee says yes and suggests, “Do you want to go to that place that we went last Friday?” Judy, Rose, and Arleen agree that this was a cool place and they would like to go there after work.

In the meantime, Marcia has been sitting at her desk in the same work area, listening to this postlunch chatter and wondering what she has to do to be included in this group. The women seem to have such a good time, and she wishes they would give her a chance to show she could fit in with them. She decides to take a shot at it. Maybe she hasn’t been assertive enough and they think she isn’t interested. She sees an opening in the conversation and says, “Do you know where one of my favorite places is?”

She is chagrined when they ignore her and continue chatting as though she hasn’t spoken and isn’t there.

“So let’s plan on going to that same place,” says Lee, turning her back to Marcia, rolling her eyes, and giving a knowing look at Rose and Arleen.

“We’ll be there—what time do you guys want to get there?”

“How about seven?” offers Arleen. “We can take my car. I’ve got enough room for four,” she says, making it clear that no one else is going to join their group.

Marcia screws up her courage and decides to give it one more try, figuring she has nothing to lose, and asks, “Did you know there’s a new club that’s actually got a place for the kids?” No one responds to her this time, either.

After a short, pregnant pause, Lee declares, “All right! Break’s over!” The role-play ends.

Welcome to the middle school lunchroom in the grown-up workplace. While this was a role-play, it was presented as an example of typical dynamics between women in the workplace. It was one of many such roleplays presented during the study to demonstrate indirect aggression—probably an old and deeply buried pattern that is a form of horizontal violence.   An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (]]>

Indirect Aggression

I walked in and there were two of the women that were in my group walking ahead of me. I said, “Oh, hey—how are you guys?” And they kind of looked over their shoulder and gave me this look, with that curl in their lip and roll in their eyes. They got on the elevator and as the doors closed, one of them said, “We’re going to get coffee”—click—and the door closed in my face.

As seen above, indirect aggression includes both verbal and nonverbal covert behaviors that could seem innocuous but are intended to hurt. They can include not only the use of body language, such as eye rolling, but also silence, as demonstrated in the story from another white nurse in her fifties, Janet, about her interactions with other women at work:

I’d go up to talk with them about something, and they’d all pick up the phone and pretend they were talking. So, for the longest time, I thought, “God, they’re on the phone a lot!” You know, it was just a smoke and mirrors kind of thing—and I was brand new to the organization, a lot younger than them, and they certainly weren’t going to let me in.

Smoke and mirrors—now add to this another thread in indirect aggression—denial. One example of denial in the adolescent-girl literature includes this description by a ninth grader: “Last week, I asked my friend why she was mad at me—I had no idea why—and she said, ‘I’m not mad at you.’ Right then I knew she was mad at me.”   An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (]]>

Deep Patterns from the Middle School Lunchroom

I expect them in adolescence. I don’t expect them at forty-five or fifty. Oh, I’m certain that the bullies in junior high school are still bullies today. Have you been to a high school reunion?

Although these behaviors are frequently said to be related, few studies have been conducted to make a direct connection between adolescent “mean girl” behavior and adult women’s experiences with each other in the workplace. Yet the connection seems obvious and could explain why the negative experiences of women with each other in the workplace are so pervasive. These behaviors probably reflect marginalized group behavior that is ancient, deeply held, and learned at a very young age. A frequent question from my audiences is, “But aren’t things different now for girls than they used to be, with Title IX and access to sports?” While some situations have surely changed, and change is always happening, two excellent studies conducted in 2002 and 2003 that covered diverse groups of girls from first grade to high school in various parts of the country found that the messages adolescent girls still receive have not changed in significant ways. Girls still learn from the larger culture that how they look (being skinny and blond) is more important than how smart or talented they are—and so many girls, including girls of color, have no hope of ever measuring up to the cultural standard. There is still a widespread expectation among girls that they will subordinate their own dreams and goals to please a man when they grow up and that they will be the primary caregivers in their families. Check out the magazines and websites that adolescent girls read to find these types of messages. Girls may now expect to work once they are parents, but they still may not expect to be the primary breadwinner unless they have grown up in a single-parent household.   An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (]]>