Growing up with my grandmother, I never got an allowance.
I never knew what she thought about allowances either, since the topic never came up. With a low-wage job and five grandchildren to raise, allowances were a luxury Big Mama couldn't even consider.
And I certainly never dared ask to be paid for any chores around the house--unless, of course, I wanted to cut down my own switch.
These days, however, millions of kids are on their parents' payroll. In a survey by researchers at Ohio State University, half the children surveyed get a regular allowance, according to a survey by researchers at Ohio State University.
The median amount among 12- to 18-year-old kids who get allowances was $50 a week. The highest-paid teens got more than $200 a week.
But half of all teens aren't getting any money, and of the half that do, 25 percent get less than $7 a week. Not surprisingly, parents who earned less gave smaller allowances. As income rose, so did the allowance.
The allowance survey was based on lengthy personal interviews conducted with nearly 9,000 randomly chosen teenagers participating in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. It was sponsored in part by the Labor Department and profiled in last month's issue of American Demographics magazine. "Allowance" was defined as any money disbursed to children by parents, other relatives or guardians.
It had talk-show hosts and financial experts complaining that parents are overindulging their kids by handing out such large amounts of money.
But most revealing was that the co-author of the study, Jay Zagorsky, told me he found little research to support a widespread notion that an allowance, or lack of one, has some connection with a child's future financial responsibility.
Apparently a lot of parents think that it does. In fact, many experts recommend that if you want your kids to learn about money you should give them an allowance--even if it's a modest amount.
There are numerous books advocating allowances. There's "Allowance Kit, Junior!: A Money System for Little Kids," "Monthly Money: Allowance & Responsibility System for Kids and Teenagers," "101 Ways Kids Can Spoil Their Parents . . . and Increase Their Allowance" and "Rich on Any Allowance: The Easy Budgeting System for Kids, Teens, and Young Adults."
These books tackle such issues as the amount you should dole out and whether the money should be tied to chores or given free and clear.
We have experts who say children will be ruined if they don't get an allowance and others warning that they'll be spoiled if they do. You can't blame parents for being confused.
Zagorsky, co-author of the study, said he's a little surprised at all the media hype, which focused on the $50 amount, even though half of the kids get no allowance at all. That $50 is the median amount among those who do, meaning half of the reported allowances were higher and half were lower.
So, should children get an allowance? If so, how much? The Ohio State study found the median allowance for a teen in a household with a family income of $70,000 to $80,000 is $70. Is that too much? Is it unreasonable that children should profit as the family finances get better?
The answers to these questions don't matter much, at least not if your goal is to somehow teach your children how to handle finances.
"Giving a child an allowance doesn't guarantee that they will be good money managers," said Don Blandin, president of the American Savings Education Council. "It's not about giving them a buck or seven bucks. It's just as important to talk to them about finances in the home as best you can."
Ultimately, children are most likely to learn how to handle money from the example their parents set.
My grandmother never made enough to give me an allowance. But watching her scrimp and save helped me establish healthy values that I stick by to this day.
While Michelle Singletary welcomes comments and column ideas, she cannot offer specific personal financial advice. Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or by e-mail to singletarym@ washpost.com.
Researchers at Ohio State University found that the median American teenage allowance is $50 a week. The researchers looked at what teens get in an allowance based on their age and the family income. For purposes of the study, "allowance" also included other cash handouts from parents, not just a fixed amount given each week. For example, the reported allowance could include money for lunches or a trip to the movie.
Annual household Percent getting Amount per
income range allowance week
$10,000-$20,000 49.9 $12
$20,000-$30,000 48.8 $19
$30,000-$40,000 47.0 $21
$40,000-$50,000 50.0 $46
$50,000-$60,000 53.7 $55
$60,000-$70,000 52.7 $55
$70,000-$80,000 53.2 $70
$80,000-$90,000 52.3 $100
$100,000 or more 59.1 $175
Age allowance Amount per week
12 60.7 $50
13 58.0 $50
14 54.6 $55
15 50.0 $50
16 42.2 $55
17 33.4 $38
18 38.1 $12
NOTE: Data based on a national survey of nearly 9,000 children, ages 12 to 18
SOURCE: Ohio State University study