A recent study reported that the average children’s allowance went up slightly this year to $68 per week. Ten percent were getting $100 or more! That flabbergasted Mister Boomer.
The practice of giving allowances — to each member of a family — started in the mid-1800s. By the Boomer Era after the War, nearly half of all children of professional families were receiving some measure of allowance. In families of non-skilled labor, the rate was under twenty percent. In 1960, Seventeen magazine reported that the average teenage girl received just under $10 per week, a substantial sum by anyone’s standards. When adjusted for inflation, that would amount to more than $100 per week in today’s dollars.
The reason for giving an allowance is most often cited as an attempt to teach the value of money and budgeting, though it serves as a reward/punishment system for many.
Did the Seventeen magazine readership in 1960 represent the wider boomer experience? Not in Mister Boomer’s neighborhood. Growing up in a suburb populated almost entirely by factory workers, most parents Mister B knew did not give their kids an allowance. Those who did tied it to either school grades, or more often, household chores like grass cutting, leaf raking and garbage take out for boys, and dish washing, vacuuming and dusting for girls. Even then, the weekly allowances that Mister B was aware of that his neighborhood friends or schoolmates received was on the order of less than a dollar a week, or twenty-five to fifty cents per completed chore.
For Mister B’s family, and many others like his, children’s expenses were on a “need-to-pay” basis. If we needed some money for a class field trip, or a Saturday matinee, it would be granted if deemed appropriate. Mister B recalls that, from an early age, the kids in the neighborhood earned a little money on their own. For Mister Boomer, that was age eight. By then he was shoveling snow, raking leaves and mowing grass in the neighborhood for twenty-five to fifty cents a job. Girls in the neighborhood, like Mister B’s sister, were babysitting by age twelve. Before and during that age, supplemental income was generated by searching for soda pop bottles. The glass ones were worth two cents apiece, but the quart bottles got you a nickel, if you could find one. Cans were not returnable at that time, and plastic bottles didn’t exist yet. At age sixteen, Mister B and his siblings got part-time jobs.
Mister Boomer never felt he was left out or punished by not receiving an allowance. Instead, the idea that you had to earn your money was instilled from an early age. That served him well through the years. With today’s kids getting cellphones by age eleven — not to mention hundred dollar sneakers and video game systems — Mister B has to wonder how these families can afford all that and still pay allowances at all?
Did you receive an allowance as a kid, boomers? How did you handle allowance with your kids?