The Cost of Being a Girl
Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap
Publication: Dec 17
Publication: Dec 17
Publication: Dec 17
6 x 9
11 tables, 8 line drawings
Traces the origins of the gender wage gap to part-time teenage work, which sets up a dynamic that persists into adulthoodRead an Excerpt from the Introduction (pdf).
The gender wage gap is one of the most persistent problems of labor markets and women’s lives.
Most approaches to explaining the gap focus on adult employment despite the fact that many Americans begin working well before their education is completed. In her critical and compelling new book, The Cost of Being a Girl, Yasemin Besen-Cassino examines the origins of the gender wage gap by looking at the teenage labor force, where comparisons between boys and girls ought to show no difference, but do.
Besen-Cassino’s findings are disturbing. Because of discrimination in the market, most teenage girls who start part-time work as babysitters and in other freelance jobs fail to make the same wages as teenage boys who move into employee-type jobs. The “cost” of being a girl is also psychological; when teenage girls work retail jobs in the apparel industry, they have lower wages and body image issues in the long run.
Through in-depth interviews and surveys with workers and employees, The Cost of Being a Girl puts this alarming social problem—which extends to race and class inequality—in to bold relief. Besen-Cassino emphasizes that early inequalities in the workplace ultimately translate into greater inequalities in the overall labor force.
"The American gender wage gap remains a yawning chasm, but people are looking for the cause in the wrong place, argues sociology professor Besen-Cassino in this fascinating study.... This essential look at the origins of the persistent spread between a woman's lifetime earning potential and a man’s casts a startling new light on an old problem."
"This innovative investigation of girls' part-time work exposes the many ways youth jobs lay a foundation for the adult gender wage gap—which starts, amazingly, at ages 14 or 15. Besen-Cassino's mixed method approach to babysitting and retail employment creatively demonstrate that 'doing gender' and on-the-job stereotyping occur even when (or because) teens think their part time work is not a 'real job.' She unearths critical consequences of this belief, including that girls are discouraged from negotiating higher wages, tied to under-paid jobs due to interpersonal connections, and tracked into jobs that create race/class/gender hierarchies. The Cost of Being a Girl powerfully challenges existing ways of thinking about employment, job structures, and wages."
—Christine Bose, Professor Emerita, University at Albany, SUNY
"This nuanced study both reveals and challenges the intersecting elements of workplace culture that enable gendered inequalities to exist, and persist, from adolescence.... (A) timely addition to the current discourse surrounding gender equality and, more specifically, pay equity."
—LSE Review of Books
"The gender earnings gap starts early, by age 14 or 15, before marriage, childbearing, and higher education experiences intervene. In this important study, Yasemin Besen-Cassino brings together quantitative and qualitative data, including in-depth interviews with a diverse group of young women. She shows how the combination of informal work, emotional demands, and gendered expectations shape the early experience of young women, with lasting consequences for gender inequality. These powerful results should help set the agenda for research on gender and the policies to address inequality."
—Philip Cohen, University of Maryland
"The gender pay gap continues to be one of the most pressing and perplexing problems. Besen-Cassino takes the arguments about the causes and consequences of wage inequity seriously and, weaving together multifaceted data, powerfully shows how these inequalities start early in girls' working lives and continue to shape their opportunities and outcomes for decades to come."
—Jennifer A. Reich, University of Colorado Denver
Table of Contents
1. Origins of the Gender Wage Gap
2. Babysitters: Pricing the Priceless Child (Care)
3. Shop Girls: Gender Inequality in Retail and Service-Sector Jobs
4. Race, Class, and Gender Inequality: An Intersectional Approach
5. Long-Term Effects
Conclusion: Work, Recession, and Future Direction
Appendix: Methodological Notes