617: Allowance

A Thousand Things to Talk About
617: Allowance

Did you get an allowance as a kid? If so, how much?

Full episode script

In America, sometime between the 1890s and 1920s, the idea of giving children allowances became not only more common, but suggested by some child-rearing experts. As one research article explained, quote:

Statistics suggest that parents increasingly used allowances to allocate family resources. According to a 1936 survey, nearly 50 percent of children from professional families received allowances–an impressive increase over the single-digit percentages that typically prevailed at the turn of the twentieth century–while 28 percent of “semi-skilled” workers and 12 percent of “slightly skilled” workers gave their children allowances. The rising standard of living in postwar America made children’s allowances both more common and more generous. Allowance rates climbed substantially after 1960, when a Seventeen magazine survey indicated that the average teenage girl had a weekly income of $9.53. A 1999 Rand Youth Poll found that the typical weekly allowance for thirteen to fifteen year olds ranged from $30.50 to $34.25.


Today, allowances are pretty much a normal part of growing up for many middle and upper class children. But that experience isn’t an equally distributed one. As Quartz reported in a 2018 article:

According to one year of data from 10,000 families who use the BusyKid app, parents give girls an average $6.71 per week, about half the $13.80 boys received. To be sure, the study results—which the company published on its blog—are not scientific. In 2015, researchers from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research did find that boys earn more for fewer tasks, but the gap they found in pay for chores wasn’t nearly as large. And, oddly, the allowance gap is the only dramatic split in the BusyKids report. Apparently boys and girls save equal amounts (about $24-$25 per week) and tend to spend comparable sums, too.


This isn’t the case in just the US, though. As one 2001 article in the Journal of Economic Psychology reported about UK parents:

Results indicated that most parents (88.4%) were in favour of pocket-money schemes; they should begin around 6 years-old (6.65 yrs); there is a near-linear relationship between child’s age and amount received; that saving should be encouraged but that borrowing and lending from other children discouraged.


A 2013 research study from China also found that children in China usually receive allowances as well, with average amounts varying based on the area of the country they live in and the number of siblings they have.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.