Written By Own Your Destiny Team

April 10 is Equal Pay Day, and Op-Ed writers across the country are bemoaning the pay gap between American men and women – as well they should. The pay gap has been essentially stagnant for several years, with women overall earning roughly 80 cents for every dollar a man earns, and most women of color earning substantially less.

But there is a part of the labor market that often gets overlooked in discussions of pay disparities, and in my view it’s one that merits a lot more attention. That is the youth labor market.

Many, many teenagers work at least occasionally starting as early as age 12, according to government data. As of December 2017, roughly 5.1 million teens aged 16 to 19 were in the labor force.

In the earliest years, there is no real gender wage gap. But by age 14 or 15, pay disparities start to emerge, according to Yasemin Besen-Cassino, a professor of sociology at Montclair State University and the author of The Cost of Being a Girl: Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap.

What’s going on? A few things. For starters, while boys and girls both tend to start with freelance-type jobs – shoveling snow, babysitting, and the like – boys are more likely than girls to shift into employee-type work as they get older.

On the face of it, that shouldn’t create a wage gap. But Besen-Cassino found that girls are less likely than boys to get raises as babysitters, and more likely to be asked for extra hours or unpaid chores. Also, even when girls do move into jobs in, say, retailing, they are more likely to be asked to spend money to fit the brand’s image.

“The pay gap does not start when women are thirty or forty,” Besen-Cassino wrote. “It has roots in the work of children as young as twelve, and if our society wants to eliminate the pay gap, it needs to understand how it begins.”

In short, yes, the pay gap is disgraceful and ought to disappear. Employers who are taking steps to close the gap should be applauded. But let’s not forget that the pay gap begins much, much earlier than you might think.


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