When I was about 12, my parents asked me if I wanted pocket money like my older sister. Somewhat cynically, perhaps, I worked out that swapping their largesse for a spot of independence was a poor trade, at least when measured in terms of chocolate bars and Spider Man toys, so I declined.
It seems that makes my family something of an anomaly. Data from the Halifax Pocket Money Survey 2016 shows that boys get ‘paid’ 13% more than girls - £6.93 a week to £6.16. Cue the pundit storm. The gender pay gap exists for kids too? How can we hope to smash the glass ceiling in the workplace when we’re busy building one in our homes?
It’s easy to overreact though. Yes, this is a startling difference, but if you look at Halifax’s data from the last several years you see not a widening gap but an anomaly. There is an enduring pattern that boys get more than girls, but it’s typically by far less than 13%.
Halifax has conducted its pocket money survey since the 1980s. This year’s involved 1,800 parents and children aged 8-15.
Even if it’s not as bad as it first seemed, a stubborn gender pocket money gap is hardly a good thing. Just how bad it is really depends on why it exists in the first place. The most depressing option would be a conscious or unconscious bias that boys simply deserve more, but I personally have a little more faith in Britain’s parents than that.
To explore other possible reasons, think of why parents give pocket money in the first place:
1. To teach them responsibility - parents want their kids to learn how to make good decisions with money. Perhaps they believe boys need this lesson more than girls.
2. To incentivise good behaviour - pocket money rewards obedience. Do your homework and get an allowance; don’t tidy your room, and you lose out. Again, it’s not inconceivable that parents see boys as more in need on incentivising.
3. To shut them up - kids learn early that incessant complaining goes a long way. Halifax’s data indicate boys are more likely to ask for a ‘raise’, just as men are.
Giving boys more money for any of the above reasons does not represent bad parenting or an intentional bias against girls, though that’s not to say those don’t exist. What it does represent, however, is a failure to lead by example.
For disparate only children perhaps it’s not so much of an issue, but seeing that your brother gets more or your sister gets less will hardly go unnoticed within a family (‘inflation’ is unlikely to cut it as an excuse with 9 year-olds). The idea that inequality between the sexes is somehow okay is sadly one that children learn early and easily.
This isn’t to say parents should start instituting formal pocket money reviews and transparent appraisal structures like EY or the NHS – parenting is a practical art, after all – but being mindful of the messages kids get from even simple things like pocket money can’t hurt.