Cost of Living

Underpaying your teen babysitter? You may be contributing to the wage gap

Paying your female babysitter too little as a teenager can have major consequences on how much she earns in the adult years to come, according to researchers.

Female babysitters often make less than male counterparts and are expected to do extra unpaid tasks

Sarah Stansfield, 10, and her babysitter Summer Moore get air off a jump while sledding in Michigan in this 2015 file photo. (Alex McDougall/The Ann Arbor News/The Associated Press)

The price you pay for a teenage babysitter is often lower per hour than for other jobs filled by young people, and it could be contributing to the gender wage gap in those workers' adult years, according to researchers.

A teenager's first job can be very influential on their eventual work and wages as an adult, with lower wages for young women versus men taking root at an early age, according to Yasemin Besen-Cassino, chair of the sociology department Montclair State University in New Jersey.

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In her book, The Cost of Being a Girl: Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap, Besen-Cassino examined the experiences of young women working in a variety of fields including retail, the service sector and babysitting.

She found gender wage gaps would start in early teen years, and would persist as young people grew older.

What is the wage gap?

The gender wage gap is the difference between what women and men get paid.

In Canada, working-age women earn an average of $4.13 less per hour than men. For every dollar a man gets paid, a woman gets $0.87, according to a study from Statistics Canada in 2018.

Statistics also show that women often make less than men for doing the same jobs. 

Babysitting wages vary in Canada

Across the country, babysitters charge different hourly rates depending on where they live. 

At the low end, a 12-year-old Karley in Swift Current, Sask., told Cost of Living she earns five to seven dollars an hour. Sixteen-year-old Chloe in Steinbach, Man., earns six to eight dollars an hour.

In major urban centres, wages are higher. Fourteen-year-old Olivia makes $10 an hour looking after one kid in downtown Toronto and $15 an hour for two.

Eighteen-year-old Queen Alexis in Vancouver charges minimum wage, which is currently $13.85 in British Columbia. In Yellowknife, N.W.T., 17-year-old Ruby makes $10 per hour babysitting.

Vancouver babysitter Queen Alexis, 18, started babysitting her brother when she was 10 or 11, and uses babysitting apps to find new families who need babysitting. (Submitted by Queen Alexis)

Babysitting versus lawn care

When you compare babysitting to other informal jobs teens typically take on, you'll find a variety of different price — many of which end up paying more than child care.

In Calgary, 12-year-old Evan runs a lawn-mowing, leaf-raking and snow-shovelling business where he charges $25 per cut for an average lawn.

Evan says he always discusses pricing with his customers and keeps track of what competitors on Kijiji are charging, to ensure he's getting and giving the best price.

Shovelling snow, a task often performed by boys more than girls, also tends to pay more. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Fifteen-year-old Gabe started mowing lawns in Calgary in 2018. 

The idea came from his father, who mowed lawns when he was a teen. During his first summer, Gabe charged $20 per lawn, which is what his father charged back in the day. This past summer, Gabe upped his price to $15 per hour.

When you search for teen or student lawn mowers on Kijiji in Alberta, prices range from $10 to $50, but the average is around $30 per hour. 

The wage gap starts in early teen years

Besen-Cassino's study noted the emergence of the wage gap at an early age, and its effect on young women.

Besen-Cassino started with a quantitative study, looking at what boys and girls would get paid as 12- and 13-year-olds. She found they make the same wage at those ages.

Yasemin Besen-Cassino chairs the sociology department at Montclair State University in New Jersey.. (Mike Peters/Submitted by Yasemin Besen-Cassino)

Once the children turned 14 or 15, Besen-Cassino noticed a gender wage gap began, which she said got worse as the children grew older.

"I wondered, what happens at 14 and 15?" said Besen-Cassino.

"I noticed that most of the girls stay in babysitting jobs, mostly freelance jobs, and boys move into employee-type jobs." 

Different expectations for girls

The expectations for female babysitters are also different from their male counterparts, according to Besen-Cassino.

"Most of them would show up for work, you know, half an hour early, leave half an hour late. Moms would want to talk to them for a little bit more. They just did not have boundaries," said Besen-Cassino.

All [boys] had to do was babysitting. No extra housework, no running errands.... Girls are expected to care.- Yasemin Besen-Cassino, Montclair State University

Many young women were also expected to do additional unpaid tasks, like light cooking or a little cleaning. Some were asked to run errands or take the family dog for a walk.

Male babysitters told Besen-Cassino that was not their experience at all.

"Boys just showed up for their shift. They didn't have to show up early. They didn't have to stay late. All they had to do was babysitting. No extra housework, no running errands," she said.

When it comes to babysitting, "girls are expected to care," said Besen-Cassino.

"They're supposed to be more nurturing and more maternal and care about the children, whereas boys are not really expected to care for the children, they just are expected to be professional." 

It's not just in Canada

Other researchers have found gender pay disparities among young people outside of Canada as well. 

That includes a study conducted in the Netherlands, according to Lavinia Moldovan, assistant professor of economics at Mount Royal University in Calgary, where she specializes in gender and microeconomics. 

"They looked at pay disparities between boys and girls, because a lot of girls would go into babysitting whereas boys would go into distributing newspapers or other jobs," said Moldovan.

You're leaving your child with this person, not just your grass.- Lavinia Moldovan, Mount Royal University

The study, published in the journal Labour Economics, looked at 33,667 students over a 15-year period, from 1984 to 2001.

Eighty-five per cent of the students working babysitting jobs were girls. Dutch boys, on the other hand, pursued jobs like delivering newspapers, working in stores, supermarkets or restaurants. 

The survey showed "the girls would receive lower pay for their babysitting jobs," says Moldovan, "which might be seen as lesser value — or not necessarily lesser value, but if you enjoy the job you're doing, then the idea is that you don't necessarily have to be paid that much, which is very dangerous."

The danger is twofold: first, for assuming girls will enjoy babysitting work, likely because society expects them to be more maternal, and second, for paying babysitters less when it may, in fact, be the more demanding job.

Lavinia Moldovan is an assistant professor of economics at Mount Royal University in Calgary. (Submitted by Lavinia Moldovan)

"Actually, [babysitting] positions fully involve more responsibility than yard work," said Moldovan, who pointed out that babysitters have been "traditionally undervalued" and that it's difficult to change that mindset.

"You're leaving your child with this person, not just your grass."

Officials in the Netherlands took the pay gap, as found by these researchers, seriously when it came to women's long-term potential in the workforce.

"At some point they had a campaign for girls telling them to try to be better prepared for the future and not limit their choices," said Moldovan.

"[Officials] were worried that girls would just limit themselves to taking care of their family, so there was government intervention rather than just letting parents teach their own children about how they should get ready for the future."

Written and produced by Tracy Fuller.
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