For Montclair Local

Probing the gender wage gap issue, “The Cost of Being a Girl” uses large-scale data and individual narratives to reveal why it now starts earlier and how to address it.

In “The Cost of Being a Girl: Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap “(Temple University Press- December 2017), author


reveals how the gender wage gap affects earning power, from early adolescence through adulthood decades later.

“The biggest misconception about the wage gap is reducing it to women’s choices,” said Besen-Cassino, a Montclair State University Associate Professor of Sociology.

The idea that motherhood and career choices lead to lower wages is a misconception, she said.“Even when teens are 14, when they have the same education, same skills, without kids and spouses, they still experience gender inequality.”

In New Jersey, the median salary for women working full-time is just over $50,000, or $11,737 less than the median annual salary for a man. Across all races, women working full-time, on average, earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by a male doing similar work. African-American women earn about 60 cents for every dollar earned by a white male while a Latina earns only 43 cents. Overall, the economic cost of this disparity totals an estimated $32.5 billion a year in lost wages and economic power.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, a 20-year old woman beginning a full-time year-round position may lose $418,800 over a 40-year career in comparison to her male colleague. When that male colleague retires at age 60 after 40 years of work, the woman would have to work 10 more years – until age 70, to close this lifetime wage gap.


The author interviewed 35 babysitters and 25 retail and service workers. Although the majority were young females, the males were found to be more likely to get raises or earn more for the same work. However, job expectations varied by sex.

“The boys would come in, babysit and leave. The girls were expected to also do light errands and cooking. The job descriptions were more fluid for females, including picking up dry cleaning or dropping off movie rentals,” she said.

Surveying more than 100 people who employ babysitters, Besen-Cassino found that factors contributing to raises varied.

“They didn’t like it when the girls showed attachment to children. The girls were rated more likely to be ‘manipulative’ while boys were ‘nice’ when negotiating for raises,” Besen-Cassino said.

The retail service sector industry reflects aesthetics as a given, but with additional expectations for girls.

“They had to look like the brand, deal with the more difficult customers, and consume the clothes. When it came to money, they were told ‘you’re here for the clothes.’”” Besen-Cassino said. “The males had to represent the brand, but they were not under pressure to look good. They were also handling money and going into management positions.”


Salary negotiations and raises continue to become obstacles for girls, well past early adolescence, Besen-Cassino found in a Bureau of Labor Statistics longitudinal study going back as far as 1997. “Even years later, when the same teens are 29 to 30, there was a gender effect. Working as a teen was beneficial for men in the long term, but not for women, even when they work in completely unrelated jobs,” Besen-Cassino said.

Lasting consequences from a gender wage gap continue to add roadblocks.

“These early experiences teach young women from an early age that when they negotiate they don’t have the same results as their male counterparts,” Besen-Cassino said. “They are less likely to get the raise, and often times their evaluations go down. They also have more unpaid hours than their male counterparts, so they learn their time is not as respected. These are lasting experiences.”

Solutions to the gender wage gap include changing perception, especially when it comes to negotiating salary increases. Employers need to begin understanding biases such as labeling women as “demanding,” “bossy,” and not being a “team player” when they ask for raises, as opposed to considering men “ambitious.” Women should not be tasked with the burden of solving the gender wage gap problem in negotiations, because they’re still more likely to be turned down when negotiating raises, while employers fail to acknowledge biases, she said.

Translating the value of labor into dollars across a range of industries, job titles and descriptions is harder when there’s no starting point.

“One of the problems many young women mentioned was they didn’t know how much jobs paid for. It is important to make salaries public,” Besen-Cassino said, noting that government web sites can provide salary information by industry and position.

The growing freelance market due to outsourcing and downsizing presents more challenges. “I suspect that young women go through some of the same issues that babysitters go through. Namely, it’s not knowing exactly how much jobs pay for, having more unpaid hours, more expenses, employers demanding more work,” Besen-Cassino said.


It’s important to provide more accessible, Glassdoor like resources for women to understand the monetary value of their freelance work by industry, she noted.

Policy changes on state and federal levels can also address the gender wage gap. Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order barring employers from asking prospective employees about salary history is a positive step, the author notes.

Another law that takes effect in July, makes it a prohibited employment practice for employers to discriminate against an employee who is a member of a protected class. Employers will not be able to pay rates of compensation, including benefits, less than the rate paid to employees not of the protected class for substantially similar work, when viewed as a composite skill, effort and responsibility.

The Cost of Being a Girl: Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap is available on Amazon.