Nfld. & Labrador

Even the youngest workers are affected by the gender pay gap, survey finds

A Girl Guides survey found that girls are earning nearly $3 less per hour in their summer jobs than boys, and are over-represented in "caring" work.

Girl Guides of Canada survey finds that girls aged 12 to 18 earn $2.75 less per hour in summer jobs than boys

Girl Guides surveyed girls 12 to 18 about their summer work experiences, and found that the gender wage gap starts young. (Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

As the school year ends, teenagers across the country are securing work for the summer. These first jobs have benefits for young people, but a new report shows that they may also provide girls as young as 12 with their first experience with the gender pay gap.

Girl Guides of Canada partnered with Ipsos to ask youths aged 12 to 18 about their summer work in 2018. They found that just as Canadian women experience a gendered pay gap with men, Canadian girls also do with boys their same age.

The survey found that in full-time summer jobs in 2018, girls earned an average of $15.26 an hour, compared with $18.01 an hour for boys — a gap of $2.75 for every hour worked.

That gap was even wider for full-time informal work with family, friends or neighbours, like babysitting, with girls earning $8.67 hourly compared with $14.98 for boys — a gap of $6.31 per hour, and a wage for the girls that's lower than any minimum wage in Canada. 

"We were actually surprised at Girl Guides of Canada that they were feeling this gender inequality quite so early," said Jill Zelmanovits, the CEO of Girl Guides of Canada. 

But Kerri Neil, who published a report on the gender wage gap in Newfoundland and Labrador, said the disparities for teenaged workers mirror those seen in older ones. A payroll report by ADP Canada published earlier this year found women earn 25 per cent less than men in pay, bonuses and profit sharing, for example, and the St. John's Status of Women Council says the gender pay gap in Newfoundland and Labardor is the largest in Canada.

"I think it really hurts women," Neil said. "It really hurts families. And I think it really hurts our society."

First survey of its kind

Young women become aware of gendered discrimination at work in their teens. A nationwide survey of teen girls done by Girl Guides in 2017 found that 19 per cent of them were unmotivated to pursue their career of choice because of concerns they would be treated worse because they are female, and 24 per cent said they were unmotivated because they thought they would be compensated less than male colleagues.

About a third of the girls surveyed by Girl Guides had a traditional summer job, about another third had more informal work, about 14 per cent volunteered in the summer months, and about three per cent interned. (Girl Guides of Canada)

Even the very definition of work or a job is influenced by gender, the survey found. Girl Guides and Ipsos asked both girls and boys about their summer work experience in order to capture both traditional employment — for example, a part-time job at a retail store — and less-formal arrangements like babysitting or yard work.

The survey found that girls aged 16-18 were more likely to be working in summer jobs, while younger ones were more likely to be doing informal work for family, friends or neighbours. Also, girls who identified as black, Indigenous or Asian were more likely to spend their summers working full time in informal arrangements.

Kerri Claire Neil has studied the gender wage gap in Newfoundland and Labrador, and says the Girl Guides survey results mirror some of what's seen for adult women. (Submitted)

Just over a quarter of the girls who worked during the summer months were employed providing care for other people, for example in babysitting or doing elderly care. Girls were overrepresented in jobs of that type compared with boys, just as women are compared to men, Zelmanovits said.

Undervalued work

Even if choosing a particular kind of work is a matter of personal preference, the wage disparities for caring work versus other types of employment still show how we undervalue work we see as traditionally done by women, Neil said.

"There is still this idea that caretaking is a woman's job — you know, women are more nurturing and better suited for that kind of work, it's assumed," she said. 

"And I think because it's considered women's work, it is often devalued in the workplace."

For example, Neil said, the lower pay for caring jobs like babysitting reflects the low wages earned by early childhood educators, even when they have completed training programs that put their education level on par with more highly compensated jobs like truck driving.

Girls with traditional full-time summer jobs, like working at a retail store, earned $2.75 less per hour on average than boys. For girls working in more informal full-time jobs, such as babysitting, the gap was even wider. (Girl Guides of Canada)

It could be that people relying on younger workers to provide summer child care can't afford other options themselves, Neil said. Breaking that cycle requires changes on a wider level regarding child care, not just a shift in how much individual teenagers are making, she said.

"This is a problem for everyone, so that this kind of thing doesn't happen."

Tips for parents and teens

Actively talking to girls and young women about properly valuing their work, charging a reasonable hourly rate, and determining if a job pays fairly could help reduce these wage gaps, Zelmanovits said. Only two girls in 10 felt comfortable raising concerns about their compensation, she said.

"They felt like when they went into what the job situation was, they didn't really have the skill set to negotiate their value," she said. 

Girl Guides also found some gender disparity in the types of jobs girls and boys did in the summer months. (Girl Guides of Canada)

For its part, Girl Guides has tips on its website for employers, girls and their parents, and plans to incorporate role play negotiation into its programming.

"We're actually able to teach girls and help them have some practice in a safe space," she said.

But Neil said while she's glad Girl Guides took the initiative to study this issue, it's unfair and unrealistic to expect teenagers to individually change a widespread situation that also affects adult women with more workplace experience.

"I think it's more up to society to change the way that we value women's work," she said.

Further research is needed, the report said, to determine whether the different representation of girls in certain kinds of work versus boys is a matter of girls choosing that work, or of them defaulting to it because of stereotypes and societal expectations.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.