Paying kids for doing chores could teach them to be entitled rather than helpful, says a professor who studies wealth inequality

Inti St Clair/Getty ImagesCan tying chores to money be teaching kids to be entitled? One sociologist says yes.
  • Paying kids for chores could be teaching them entitlement, according to a sociologist quoted in a recent article published on The Atlantic.
  • Families around the world, or even American families outside the upper middle class, don’t give money to kids in exchange for completing expected duties.
  • Tying money to chores could make kids expect to be paid for fulfilling basic responsibilities.

Allowances aren’t what they used to be. Instead of teaching children the value of money, an allowance could be teaching children entitlement.

So says Lehigh University sociologist Heather Beth Johnson, who studies families and wealth inequality.

“When we pay [kids] to do things that humans have always had to do as participants of communities and families, it sends them some sort of a message that they are entitled to [an] exchange for these things,” Johnson told Joe Pinsker of The Atlantic in an article about allowances.

The money-for-chore exchange can breed entitlement among kids, who will come to expect rewards for basic tasks, Johnson said. Instead, she said, parents should be relaying to children that “they’re part of a household team and should contribute accordingly.”

Johnson finds this dynamic to be characteristic of upper-middle-class American families. “This isn’t happening in poor families,” she told Pinsker. “They’re not like, ‘If you take care of your cousins, I’m going to pay you for it.’ It’s just expected that you would take care of your cousins if your cousins needed taking care of.”

This is also isn’t happening in other countries.

David Lancy, a former professor of anthropology at Utah State University who studied chores among families worldwide found that universally, children become eager to help their parents starting around 18 months. In some cultures, they start getting age-appropriate chores, without any kind of allowance.

In America, it’s different, he told Pinsker.

“In our society – and I’d extend this to most modern, post-industrial nations – we actually deny our children’s bids to help,” he said. “We distract them with other activities, we do our chores (meal prep) when they’re napping, we convey that their ‘helping’ is burdensome and, not surprisingly, the helping instinct is extinguished.”

If parents don’t accept children’s help when they’re offering it, Lancy continued, they become uninterested in pitching in by the time they’re are old enough to start being truly helpful.

Beth Kobliner, mother of three and author of “Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You’re Not): A Parents’ Guide for Kids 3 to 23,” is also against paying kids for chores.

“Research has shown that if a kid has chores, that’s a great thing for family responsibility and it’s actually one predictor of how you’ll do in a career or whether you’ll graduate from school,” she said in a Facebook Live interview with Business Insider last year.

But tying chores to money “confuses the issue” for kids, she said.

“[H]aving chores is a great thing – you’re a team player,” she said, but there’s no benefit to rewarding your kids with money for tasks like clearing the dinner table, taking out the trash, walking the dog, or making their bed.

However, she notes two instances when it’s ok to give your kids an allowance: When they do extra jobs around the house, or in terms of a weekly or monthly payment unrelated to chores.

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