The Cost of Being a Girl

By Yasemin Besen-Cassino

Molly has been working as a babysitter for some time. She has been doing a great job and you hear nothing but good things about Molly from your child. After working for you for six months, she asks for a raise. What happens when she asks for a raise? Would you give her more money? What would she need to do to deserve the raise?

These are some of the questions I discuss in my new book, Cost of Being a Girl: Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap.

Yasemin

 

“Pricing the Priceless Child (care)”

Taking care of children is a very important job, also one that is physically demanding and challenging, yet the pay does not reflect the emotional importance or the degree difficulty. The National Average for babysitters is $15.20 an hour.

In an experiment I designed, I present participants with vignettes of Molly and Jake, a female and male babysitter (yes they exist and are a new trend especially for babysitting boys) who work for you for some time and your child is very happy with. What happens when they ask for a raise when you can afford it? Who is more likely to get the raise? Even when they go over and beyond to show that they care about the child and show emotional attachment?

When Molly asks for a raise, she is less likely to get the raise. When she does not show an emotional connection to the child, she is cold and unlikeable. When she does show care, she is accused of being manipulative. When she is detached and does not care, she is not seen as loving and nurturing. When she is caring and nurturing, these traits are seen in conflict with monetary gain, so asking for money after showing care makes her manipulative and unlikable. Either way, Molly suffers in the workplace.

Informal Ties help find jobs, but also make girls less likely to ask for a raise or leave

Based on my in-depth interviews with babysitters, I find that many girls get into babysitting because it is available and accessible especially for younger teens and tweens. While personal networks are instrumental in getting babysitting jobs, many babysitters stay much longer, months and years longer than they intended because of their informal networks. These weak ties also make it more difficult for girls to ask for a raise. Overall, the job description is vaguer for girls, including light house work, cooking, cleaning, running errands and many unpaid hours of conversations before and after sessions with parents. Whereas for boys, the job description is clearer, rarely includes other housework or chores and there are no unpaid conversations or last minute changes. From an early age, girls’ time is valued less and involves more unpaid hours and more out-of-pocket expenses.

World of Part-time Retail: Difficult Customers, Credit Card Debt and Harassment

It is not much different for young girls in retail either. Many are placed in more intensive and customer service oriented positions that are not managerial positions nor positions that they handle money. “You are so good with people” is a common sentiment they hear often. In addition to being asked to deal with challenging customers, the aesthetic demands of retail and service sector jobs is more intense for young women. In order to get and keep retail and service sector jobs, young women are asked to purchase the products that they are selling. This push to look the part results in large amounts of credit card debt. In addition, many report having experienced sexual harassment, racial inequality, but very few report these problems because many say “it is not my real job.”

Part-time Teen Jobs are the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap

These early part-time jobs are especially important because they point to the origins of the gender wage gap. Using NLSY97 dataset, I find that 12 and 13-year-olds make the same amount of money, however, by the time they reach 14 and 15-years of age, we see the emergence of the gender wage gap, which widens with age. Statistical modelling shows that controlling for all background factors, the cost of being a girl remains higher than being a boy when it comes to wages. While some individual characteristics such as race and age exacerbate the wage gap, the important factor in explaining the early wage gap is in the concentration of the girls in freelance jobs (such as babysitting) and the concentration of boys in more employee-type jobs. As soon as employee-type jobs are available, boys move into those jobs, while girls remain in the lower paying freelance jobs. Even within freelance type jobs, girls are placed in different positions, often in customer service and not management or controlling money.

Unintended (Gendered) Consequences of Part-time Work

Many teenagers work part-time while still in school- it has economic benefits, socializes teenagers and has social benefits and teaches young people about discipline. Yet an unintended consequence of these early jobs is it socializes young workers into the gendered expectations and problems of the workforce. While teens are given positive messages at home and at school, these messages have little impact as they experience the problems of the workforce first-hand.

 

Yasemin Besen-Cassino is a Professor of Sociology at Montclair State University and is currently serving as the Book Review Editor of Gender&Society. Her new book Cost of Being a Girl: Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap just came out from Temple University Press in December 2017.

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