NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–Megan Riley loves kids.
When the 17-year-old from Waterford, Mich., is not in school or at marching band practice, she is praising crayon drawings and reading fairytales to the low-income children from her church over whom she watches.
Riley may be growing her resume, which will help her reach her goal of being an elementary school teacher, but she’s not building her bank account.
“I know I get paid less than what my friends who babysit do,” said Riley, who doesn’t want to burden the families she works for by demanding more money. “I just accept what the parent gives me. It’s usually not a lot, maybe $20 for a few hours. It wouldn’t shock me if anyone was paid more than me, including the few boys who do babysit.”
And boys do get paid more, according to Priceonomics. The economics-based website recently released a widely noted study collected from online babysitting profiles that found female sitters–who make up 97 percent of the babysitting work force — earn less money than male babysitters. On average, females make $14.50 an hour, while males net upwards to $15. Though it’s not a huge pay difference, the disparity is a red flag about what’s to come for girls as they get older: gendered social and professional expectations that hold them back from demanding equal pay and equal opportunities.
One reason for this, says Rebecca Bigler, a University of Texas professor of psychology and women’s and gender studies, is the “confidence gap” girls experience as they get older.
“Boys are more likely to rate themselves as better than girls are,” said Bigler in a phone interview. “Even when they have no real experience and aren’t really better at it. But they think they are, so they ask for more money. They’re confident about their skills in almost all domains, so it probably affects babysitting too.”
Riley doesn’t believe she’s less confident about her skills. Her problem is more about bargaining with the parents.
“I feel rude asking for more money,” Riley explained. “Babysitting is just one of those things where it’s harder to ask for more money because you’re not in a ‘professional’ atmosphere, because the people you babysit for are usually people you know. I don’t want to seem ungrateful. I’m getting paid, so it’s not too bad.”
Riley’s actions are typical for women and girls, said Elaine McCrate, a University of Vermont associate professor of gender, sexuality and women’s studies and economics.
“Women don’t bargain as hard as men,” McCrate said. “They don’t see themselves as worthwhile as men so they don’t ask for as much, and similarly, people expect girls to be happy with what they’re offered. Girls aren’t supposed to be pushy, they’re not supposed to be asking for more. And if they do, people tend to think that they’re unfeminine, that there is something wrong with them. This tends to discourage girls from asking for more, because they’re afraid to,” she said.
Nina Dater, a 16-year-old who babysits for many families in her neighborhood in Pittsburgh, agreed that it’s hard to ask for more money. She, like Riley, considered it rude.
“If the parents ask me for a wage I’ll tell them $10 an hour,” Dater said. “But it’s usually not up for negotiation. I think it’s not my place to negotiate pay for a job that doesn’t have a contract or anything. Since I know the people I babysit for, I shouldn’t negotiate with them because then that will get back to my parents. It’s almost like it’s an unsaid rule.”
For Shareef Swindell, a Brooklyn-based babysitter, being strategic served him better than negotiation in his seven years of babysitting. When the 24-year-old began watching other people’s children, he undercut the competition by asking for $10 an hour. As he built up his client list, he upped his rate.
“Once I tell a client I start at $15 an hour, I leave the option open for what they feel is a good amount based on how difficult they believe their child is to handle,” he said. “I’ve often gotten over my normal rate by doing this.”
This behavioral aspect of negotiation can be linked back to the confidence gap, but even more to gender stereotyping, said McCrate.
In babysitting, some parents find males out of place and a risky hire, confident or not. Priceonomics cites that when searching for babysitters on websites like Sittercity.com, the search results are always female unless one opens the advanced settings.
“A lot of people think about gender stereotypes and the ways that they’re harmful for boys is that they constrain male’s behavior in ways that aren’t good for men,” said Bigler. “And it has to do with why so many more girls are babysitters. Jobs that involve interactions with children are really highly stereotyped as feminine and therefore not compatible with masculinity.”
Luckily for teen babysitters, not all parents believe the stereotypes.
“I’ve hired male and female babysitters,” said Sandy Di Legghio, a parent of two young boys and preschool teacher from Fort Myers, Fla. “And I paid them all differently, based on how well they communicated with me. I think there were both males and females who after spending hours with my children did not have anything to tell me. There were some that communicated very well, and that made me feel like I could trust them more, but that did not seem to be more with one gender than another.”
Di Legghio said she paid her sitters according to things like age, having their own means of transportation and whether they cleaned up after themselves. She has also paid better if the sitter communicated with her and her children and told her how active they’d been. She wasn’t worried about gender.
But other parents seem to be, according to the Priceonomics report that found boys were paid 3 percent more.
“Even though it’s 50 cents, it does matter,” Riley said. “Because right from the start, pay gaps encourage people to get used to them and accept it them as ‘just the way it is.’ Which isn’t okay.”