Opinion

Your daughter needs to know that mom makes less than dad

Don't just brush your home's inequality under the rug. Girls need to know what they're up against.

Long before our daughters get their first jobs, they are already at a disadvantage when it comes to money.

A new study from investment firm T. Rowe Price shows that boys and girls do not enter the world equally prepared to deal with matters of personal finance. Boys are more likely than girls to say they have had discussions about money with their parents, more likely to consider themselves smart about money, and are more likely to be aware of the fact that their parents are saving for a college education. Parents agree, saying their sons are more likely to understand the value of a dollar than their daughters.

As Ron Lieber points out in The New York Times, this dovetails with a 2011 survey from Charles Schwab of 16- to 18-year-olds that found that the wage gap was already present at that age ($1,880 to $1,372 for yearly earnings), and that teenage boys expected higher starting salaries for their first jobs, as well as higher earnings further along in their careers.

The obvious answer is that we all have to talk more to our girls about money. But just sitting your daughter down with a budget won't be enough.

Lieber, who is a personal finance columnist for the Times and the author of a forthcoming book on parenting and money, suggests we should overcompensate "for whatever conversational tendencies we may have" and "to talk about inequities directly" with girls aged 8 to 12. That's the age when they find boys "icky" and teaching them about the wage gap might "fire their competitive instincts some."

I think that is right on. But in order for those conversations to be effective, parents need to do a little equality work of their own, starting with the personal and structural reasons behind their own likely gap in salaries. Children learn as much by example as by instruction, and if mom is seen as in a weaker financial position than dad without any explanation, it will be hard to convince them that this isn't the natural order of things.

For one, you should start by telling them that women are less likely to be financially literate than men. On average, women with a bachelor's degree score a measly 47 percent on a financial literacy, a study from 2012 found. And another study from earlier this year found that they're less likely then men to save for retirement, maintain an emergency fund, or pay off credit card balances.

Of course, you need to tell them, even if a woman can ace a financial literacy test, she still faces a number of handicaps in the workforce, and these are especially pronounced if she is a mother. Besides things like the lack of support for pregnant women in the workplace and the absence of paid parental leave policies, women are routinely discriminated against in their careers simply because they are mothers.

New data from Michelle Budig, a sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who has studied the parenthood pay gap for 15 years, shows that, on average, men's earnings increased over 6 percent when they had children, and women's decreased 4 percent for each child they had. Budig controlled for factors like hours worked, jobs chosen, and spouses' salaries. She concluded that this pay gap isn't because mothers work less hard than fathers after they have kids, but because employers assume they do.

We need to help our daughters understand what they are up against out there, including what they have control over and what they don't. And we need to make sure our sons are quite clear about the fact that that very biases that work against the girls help the boys.

We also need to make sure they both understand the financial value of caregiving. Wages for housework might never see the light of day, nor perhaps should they, but emphasizing the monetary value of all that cooking, driving, and childcare will push children to understand that there are different ways to financially contribute to a household. By elevating domestic work, parents will be elevating the status of the parent who does it (mostly mothers), validating her or his role as a financial authority in the house.

Sure, all this is way more complicated than explaining how mutual funds work. But the reality is that women's financial futures are complicated, and if we really want to prepare our daughters for the working world we've got a lot of explaining to do.

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