Girls and money

by Eszter Hargittai on March 16, 2008

I bought some Girl Scout Cookies on a street corner yesterday. The box says: “The Girl Scout Cookie Program promotes financial skills such as goal setting, decision-making, customer-service and money management.” Okay, I buy it. I mean, literally, I have bought numerous boxes this season (and the last, and the one before that, etc.).*

But there was an interesting part of the experience this time that I thought was worthy of a note. Two girls were selling the cookies (with two women who were presumably their mothers behind them), but a little boy was next to them handling the money. The boy was clearly younger, probably the little brother of one of the girls. I think it’s great that he’s learning math and dealing with money. He should learn about things of that sort. But wait, wasn’t the purpose of this program to help girls learn such skills?

The incident reminded me of an anecdote in Babcock and Leschever’s book Women Don’t Ask:

Once, when their daughter was three, Linda stopped in a drugstore for something and the child saw a stuffed animal she wanted. “Do you have enough money to buy that for me, Mommy?” she asked. “Do girls have money, or is it just boys that have money?” Linda was horrified. Their family habits had unwittingly communicated to their daughter that men control money, not women. She and her husband now make sure that their daughter sees Linda paying for things frequently; they also bought their daughter a piggy bank so that she can have money of her own.

Again, I’m all for little boys learning about money and arithmetic, but the purpose of this program is that girls learn related skills. Given all the situations in everyday life where men are the default for handling money, it would seem important to emphasize girls’ exposure to it in the context of a Girls Scouts program.

To be sure, the girls were quite active in the selling process (attracting folks to the table, offering samples) so it is not as though they were passive observers. But if anything, this suggests that they were not shy to interact with the customers and thus could have been given the responsibility of handling the money. I only recognized these dynamics after I left the table. If I’d been paying more attention, I would have just handed one of the girls the money. Next time.

[*] No worries, I don’t eat most of these cookies myself, I give them to the students in my lab. I also try to make some healthier snacks available as well, but these cookies tend to be pretty popular.



William Burns 03.16.08 at 2:20 pm

I’ve never seen that–what I have seen a lot of times is the mothers handling the money or really doing all the work at the cookie table.


Matt 03.16.08 at 2:40 pm

I think that so long as you keep your consumption of girl scout cookies down to no more than two boxes per selling season no reasonable person could think it unhealthy. The fact that they are for a good cause helps make them healthy, I think.


a different chris 03.16.08 at 3:02 pm

Are you a parent? Because I think you Jumped To Conclusions in a spectacular way.

Because the third possibility, and the first that would occur to most parents I know, is that the girls were more than capable of handling the money, had done it for years, and now were giving the younger sibling something to keep the child busy and feeling important.

Balancing out tasks between siblings is always a bit of a trick, as the younger always wants to be part of what’s going on, whilst the older would be happy if a hole in the ground opened up and swallowed the younger (and as puberty approaches, the hole would hopefully be big enough for the parents, too).

So you try to divvy things up in a way that keeps fighting and whining to a minimum.


SG 03.16.08 at 3:08 pm

Is this about money or maths?

And exactly where is the good cause in promoting

financial skills such as goal setting, decision-making, customer-service and money management.

Don’t these girls go to school?


Eszter 03.16.08 at 3:10 pm

William – Good point, the fact that the kids were involved at all is probably an improvement on most such situations.

Matt – Who said I only bought a couple of boxes this season (or last, etc.)?:)

Chris – If you have ever engaged in an activity of this sort (or if you use your imagination a bit) then you know that there are numerous other ways in which the tasks could have been divided up that would have allowed the girls to handle the money while the boy was still actively involved in the activity as a whole.

SG – Unless they go to an all-girls’ school or have very careful teachers, I suspect similarly problematic dynamics are present in their classrooms as well.


tired of blogs 03.16.08 at 3:16 pm

Only two boxes? Egad. I’ve bought 18 this year! Of course, I freeze all but two and take out just one or two per month, to make them last a year.

Odds are the kids were shifting duties every 15 or 20 minutes. Very few kids I’ve met would stay on the same task for the 2-3 hours that they were probably there selling the cookies.


Sk 03.16.08 at 3:47 pm

“Linda stopped in a drugstore for something and the child saw a stuffed animal she wanted. “Do you have enough money to buy that for me, Mommy?” she asked. “Do girls have money, or is it just boys that have money?” ”

If the child were programmed to believe that only men handle money, why did she ask her mother if her mother had the money for a stuffed animal?

sounds apocryphal



Nabakov 03.16.08 at 4:33 pm

“financial skills such as goal setting, decision-making, customer-service and money management.”

Sounds they’re learning more about PR, marketing and the power of putting a winsome dame out front to move the product.

And then when they report back to head office with their takings, getting a sudden lesson in the bottom end realities of franchising and/or pyramid marketing.



foolishmortal 03.16.08 at 5:29 pm

My brother was obliged to buy a few boxes off his boss last week. His daughter was apparently learning the valuable financial skill of “extortion”.


Barry 03.16.08 at 5:33 pm

foolish mortal, us Wise Immortals prefer ‘the power of networking downards’.


christian h. 03.16.08 at 6:46 pm

I’m glad I never bought any, given that the program seems designed to train the girls (and, it appears, their brothers) to become good little capitalists. Yuck.


Adam 03.16.08 at 6:48 pm

Your anecdote sounds like the guilty liberal version of this:

Notice that the structure of the narrative is the same, as is the purpose.

Spare us the piety.


HKW 03.16.08 at 7:15 pm

Anecdotally, I had observed the opposite: that handling money, paying bills and budgeting are part of the household management, which is usually undertaken by women. Not that you necessarily want children to observe that men make money and women spend it.


Heather 03.16.08 at 7:21 pm

Girl Scout leader here (Juniors, 4-6th grade). The troop with a younger brother handling the money was breaking the rules in two ways: siblings are not supposed to be at booth sales unless they are registered Girl Scouts, and the girls should be in charge of making change.

As for the “raising little capitalists”…whatever. They want to do interesting things. Interesting things cost money, and not all of their parents have money to chip in. My girls all set goals for sales amounts and they decided what they wanted to spend their cookie money on.

The money that that we don’t deposit in our account goes to our council, and helps to send girls to summer camp who couldn’t otherwise afford it.

If you’d rather not buy cookies, you could donate to the organization directly, or better yet, volunteer to work with the girls.


abb1 03.16.08 at 7:46 pm

I think once I was taken by surprise and bought the stuff. Probably ruined some girl’s life.


Carter 03.16.08 at 8:16 pm

That is apalling. Selling cookies is girls work. The boy should’ve been helping his dad in the coal mines or something.


mouse 03.16.08 at 9:19 pm

As the mother of a Girl Scout I would be appalled if I found out that my daughter’s troop was exempting the girls from any of the tasks they were capable of (driving to/from, arranging selling times in front of stores and the like are usually handled by older girls or troop leaders). The point of the exercise is to them confidence from a young age in their abilities and show them how capable they are.

I know of a local troop of high schoolers that are arranging and funding a trip to an international GS camp in India, a project they initiated and have been working on for years. These are things that cookie selling is supposed to serve as a catalyst for. As it is seeing my eight-year-old grin when she learned she had earned the money for camp all by herself was just…well, hopefully the value is obvious.

Oh, and she did money changing for two hours straight during open sales. The kid loves math.


blah 03.16.08 at 9:24 pm

I don’t know. It sounds like the Girl Scouts were acting as the managers and the younger sibling got roped in as the entrey level cashier. They are learning valuable skills overseeing the whole enterprise, training the younger sibling to handle the money and supervising his work.

In real life, don’t businesses prefer to have women handle the cash register because they are less likely than men to steal?


CJColucci 03.16.08 at 9:33 pm

Which cookies?


Jacob Christensen 03.16.08 at 9:52 pm

Like cjcolucci, I’ll note that Girl Scout Cookies is a phenomenon which has not travelled to this part of the world. (Hawking stuff on streets is generally not allowed, the scout movement is reluctant to engage in commercial activities, etc.)

I haven’t thought about the subject of girls and money specifically but if I try to think back to the 1970s I don’t think that my female cousins were treated differently than my male ones when it came to money. But I could be mistaken – obviously this wasn’t something you discussed with your aunts and uncles – even if your father worked as a CFO and your mother had strong opinions about women’s rights ;-)


Bernard Yomtov 03.16.08 at 10:00 pm

I think this is a major overreaction.

#3 sounds about right to me, though IANAP. What is the mother supposed to do with the younger brother while she is supervising the cookie operation? Leave him at home? Bring him along and tell him to stand quietly by the whole time?


bigTom 03.16.08 at 10:21 pm

The real purpose is raising money for the organization. They are shamelssly using these kids. And just like the schools sending out kids to sell junk, only a small portion of the money paid actually goes to the organization. It would be far better to simply ask for donations.


DennyCrane 03.16.08 at 11:28 pm

I admire the way people have taken time from their busy, action-laden schedules to comment on this topic of such world-shattering importance. Get the cookie biz sorted and then, who knows, world peace, global lukewarming (you heard that first here), school grades…


WillieStyle 03.16.08 at 11:53 pm

The real purpose is raising money for the organization. They are shamelssly using these kids. And just like the schools sending out kids to sell junk, only a small portion of the money paid actually goes to the organization. It would be far better to simply ask for donations.

What portion of the money paid actually goes to the organization?


Crystal 03.17.08 at 12:49 am

Mmmm. Thin Mints.


David Wright 03.17.08 at 12:50 am

At first I was willing to give Eszter the benefit of the doubt that she had just overlooked other possible intrepretations of what she observed. But after reading her condescending non-answer (#5) to Chris (#3), it’s clear that she is just intent on finding annecdotes to support her narriative of female victimhood. If the roles had been reversed, I suspect she would have complained that the girls had been relegated to the roles of cashiers.


Megan 03.17.08 at 3:29 am

Since Ms. Hargettai was there and had the read on the situation, I’m inclined to trust her take. Even if her read were wrong in that instance, it is a likely and interesting enough prospect to warrant a blog post.

Blogworld has seemed especially full of knee-jerk defensive critical analysis recently. I suppose that is better than the McArdle-bashing that swept it last summer, but it is awfully predictable.


J Edgar 03.17.08 at 4:59 am

In too many offices, the cookies are a racket to buy something from someone in management. On the streets, I’ve never encountered a girl scout displaying any sales skills or presence of mind; they’re just thrown out there as a object of pity, or prop for a mother who is running the show.

Of course, there may be some place in America where the situation differs.


Tracy W 03.17.08 at 9:12 am

No worries, I don’t eat most of these cookies myself, I give them to the students in my lab. I also try to make some healthier snacks available as well, but these cookies tend to be pretty popular.

All successful lab work is done at 2 am in the morning, fuelled by an unholy alliance of sugar, salt and caffine.


Tyro 03.17.08 at 2:40 pm

I put an order for 10 boxes of thin mints from my cousin’s daughter ever year. Lasts me all the way until the next buying season. They’re great if you keep them in the freezer.

Thankfully, I don’t have an supervisor above me extorting me to buy cookies from his or her Girl Scout daughter. However, if I did, then I’d be able to use the “I already ordered them within the family” excuse.


Gary 03.17.08 at 10:29 pm

Eszter’s story doesn’t have the ring of truth. I mean, who ever saw an actual girl scout selling girl-scout cookies? The cookies are passed on to parents who bring them to work and coerce their colleagues into buying up a couple of boxes. Not much harm in that I suppose–except that the cookies are inedible–but spare me the stuff about “goal setting, decision-making, customer-service and money management”. Even if the occasional girl scout hits the streets to sell a few boxes I’m sure mom and/or dad are the ones getting the money management experience.


bemused 03.18.08 at 5:07 am

Former leader and life Girl Scout here. Cookie sales money mostly funds the GS council (regional org). Some goes to the local association (town org) and a much smaller amt to the troop. Girls are given incentives to sell in the form of prizes for reaching cerain numbers of boxes. Typically the girls do individual sales (often resulting in the aforementioned parental sales at the office) and then the troop can organize group sales, like tables in front of local stores. When I had my troop, there were certain sites known to engender high sales and these were given round robin to troops that signed up for group selling. From my perspective cookie sales were a dreaded part of the year, since it is a lot of work, takes away from the program a leader wants to deliver, and despite the marketing speak, I don’t think that most girls derive much direct benefit from it. Also, in my council at least, a troop can’t do any troop-only fundraising until it participates in the fall selling event (less active than cookie sales) and the cookie sale. This makes it difficult to raise money as a troop for such projects as troop travel.

Unfortunately, Girl Scouts are not nearly as well funded through endowment income as Boy Scouts. So the councils have to self fund summer camps and other expensive parts of their program through cookie sales. So it is a necessary evil until the old girl scouts bequeath some big bucks to the organization.


J Edgar 03.18.08 at 5:33 am

Bemused, life girl scout, here’s my story. I visited Hong Kong and was besieged by school girls selling a sticker. I kept saying no, and still was constantly besigned. They were swarming like bees. I asked how they knew I hadn’t bought a sticker, and they just laughed and pointed at a sticker on their shirt collar. So,I bought a sticker, put it on my collar, and wasn’t bothered again.

It’s blackmail, but at least it shows some cleverness. Why is the girl scout thing only about boss-pressure and mom-power? Jesus C. Christ, sell a stamp along with the crappy cookies and stop bothering me.


Don N 03.18.08 at 1:27 pm

At work people hawk their children’s wares, such as Girl Scout Cookies, throughout the year. All the work is done by the parents; such as guilting colleagues to buy, distributing the goods, collecting the money. I think most people would rather just give a dollar or two for a smiley face pin instead of actually eating, wrapping, drinking, etc. whatever they felt forced to buy. Girl Scout Cookies and school candy bars are especially bad. The hallways get lined with opened boxes of cookies begging somebody to eat them.

This whole fund raising thing seems strange. Many parents seem to essentially just be exchanging money with other parents for their kids programs and the winners are the people who actually make the candy bars, cookies, wrapping paper, etc.

Don N.


Another Damned Medievalist 03.20.08 at 3:07 am

I realise that the world is much more dangerous than it was when I was younger, but when I was a kid, all of the sales that we were required to do door-to-door are now carried out by parents at work. Obviously, I can’t imagine sending my child out alone to sell cookies to strangers, but if the goals are as stated, then there must be some way to get the kids to do much of the actual work. Selling is hard. Talking to strangers is hard. These aren’t bad skills to have.

Comments on this entry are closed.