_ Disclaimer: I’m only a parent of two who’s making up stuff as I go. Feel free to disagree :-)_

I don’t remember receiving allowance or payment for doing chores as a child. And while I knew kids who were paid for grades ($20 per A, $15 per B, etc) our parents didn’t do that either. I haven’t been a proponent of money for household chores or grades, but didn’t ever have a better answer than “That’s just what you do as part of the family.” (Which is a good enough reason, but doesn’t sound very articulate)

I recently read Predictably Irrational, a fascinating book that addresses why human often predictably make poor choices. One of the chapters discussed the power of money; lawyers who were unwilling to provide charity for $30/hr were willing to do the work for free and people felt cheapened by a business reward of money compared to a gift (of perhaps lesser value) or recognition. In another example, a daycare facility imposed fines on parents who arrived late to pickup their children, only to see an increase in tardy parents.

The reason – according to Dan Ariely’s research – for this is the difference between market norms and social norms. Societal expectations give appropriate and understood expectations as to how people interact and treat each other. It’s the reason that you don’t pay for Thanksgiving dinner, but it’s ok to bring flowers or dessert. Money cheapens the transaction. It’s ok to buy pizza for friends who help you move furniture, but awkward if you slip them a twenty.

When researching the daycare, they found that parents didn’t feel guilty or obliged to fulfill societal pressure to pick up there kids and were willing to pay the fine. They were no longer dealing with people but with a business, and that changed everything. When they eliminated the fine, but parents took a while to mentally shift back to societal norms from market ones.

It’s this distinction that helps give terms to my feelings about allowance and chores. Familial pressure and societal pressures are quite similar. Making a good effort at school is something we expect our boys to do. It’s their response to having a home and parents who care about their education. Chores, likewise, are what they do to contribute to the family, not a service they provide to be compensated for.

We give our boys (4 and 6) a small weekly allowance, mostly to learn the value of money. They set aside a portion for church contribution, a portion for other charitable causes, and a portion for long-term savings. The older son gets more due to his age and heavier responsibilities. When the younger one failed to do his chore recently, we gave him his full allowance and then took some away.

Allowance for us is more like a salary than a wage. A wage you get for doing your job within specified hours. A salary is a job description. A semantic distinction? Perhaps. But it makes sense to me.