Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage GapYasemin Besen-Cassino
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
"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
"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
"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."
"The use of multiple data sources to examine the issue at hand is one unique aspect of the book.... There is something for almost everyone, methodologically, and each set of data complements the others, providing different insights into gendered inequalities in work as they are experienced by young people and perpetuated by employers.... While focused on gender, this book more broadly engages questions about the extent to which early experiences in the labor market set young people up for future experiences of inequality. This is a conversation that should continue."
— Teaching Sociology
"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
"(A) powerful and critical book that delivers important contributions at different levels and that has the ability to speak to different audiences.... Overall, the book's greatest merit is its ability to convey how powerful the workplace is in socializing young adults and in naturalizing existing inequalities."
— Gender, Work, and Organizations
"The book presents a comprehensive image of working teens and offers an important theoretical and empirical contribution to understanding the mechanisms of gender inequalities in the labour market. It offers a multifaceted empirical analysis that focuses on studying teenagers – a population previously overlooked in the studies of the gender wage gap – and thus contributes to unpacking the very early origins of wage inequalities. The book will certainly be of interest for scholars in sociology of work studying gender and racial inequalities, occupational segregation, employment trajectories and youth."
— Work, Employment, and Society
"Besen-Cassino provides an interesting new perspective on a well studied problem. With a focus on early work experiences during adolescents and preadolescents, this research shows that the gender wage gap begins long before workers enter the formal labor force.... The book is well organized to provide a comprehensive understanding of the gender pay gap during youth."
— Journal of Women, Politics and Policy
"The book develops a number of interesting insights about gender differences in work experience for young workers. Besen-Cassino’s multimethod approach allows her to consider these experiences from a variety of angles.... The MTurk survey is fascinating.... (T)he book is ambitious and thoughtful."
— American Journal of Sociology
"Besen-Cassino intervenes in the current gender wage gap debate by shedding some much-needed light on the work experiences of children and youth in the United States.... Besen-Cassino’s data are impressive.... (She) makes significant and much-needed contributions to recent debates on the gender wage gap and showcases some important findings, including the fact that all boys benefit from working as teenagers but not all girls do.... The book is a wonderful addition to the literature on the gender wage-gap and on youth and labor."
— Contemporary Sociology
"Anyone who has wondered where the current gender wage gap in the United States originates should read Yasemin Besen-Cassino’s recent monograph on the pay gap among young workers.... The Cost of Being a Girl reveals that teenage jobs produce long-term benefits to men but not women. Among the book’s most valuable discoveries are the gendered processes that disadvantage teenage girls at the start of their work careers and continue to weaken their earnings vis-à-vis boys well into adulthood. This book is a must read for undergraduate and graduate courses on gender and work where students may find the research findings resonating with their own employment experiences."
— Gender & Society