The Cost of Being a Girl

Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap

Yasemin Besen-Cassino
Honorable Mention from the National Women's Studies Association for the Sara A. Whaley Book Prize, 2018
Book Cover

PB: $27.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1349-9
Publication: Dec 17

HC: $94.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-1348-2
Publication: Dec 17

Ebook: $27.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1350-5
Publication: Dec 17

208 pages
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 adulthood

Read 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.


"Besen-Cassino effectively argues that to truly understand the origins of the wage gap, we need to look at workers as they are first entering the paid labor force: when they are teenagers.... The innovative mixed-methods design allows Besen-Cassino to provide a comprehensive look at when, why, and how gender inequality manifests among working teens.... The most important contribution the book makes is in uncovering some of the mechanisms through which adolescent work contributes to workplace gender inequality more broadly.... The Cost of Being a Girl makes important contributions to the fields of work and occupations, gender, and youth studies, and is especially salient in the current #MeToo moment, when the general public has a heightened interest in workplace gender inequality."
— Work and Occupations

"Besen-Cassino looks at the gender pay gap she believes begins in early employment experiences even if the jobs are in the informal sector.... Most of the emphasis is on female workers, who often work as babysitters and shop girls. Personal narratives illustrate points Besen-Cassino wishes to make.... Though it offers insight into early work experiences and how they might affect adult employment, the book covers many different topics, such as body image... Summing Up: Recommended." —Choice

"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."
Publishers Weekly

"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

About the Author(s)

Yasemin Besen-Cassino is Professor of Sociology at Montclair State University. She is the author of Consuming Work: Youth Labor in America (Temple); co-author (with Dan Cassino) of Consuming Politics: Jon Stewart, Branding, and the Youth Vote in America, and co-editor (with Michael Kimmel) of The Jessie Bernard Reader.