Do you pay your kids for good grades?

A vexing question for a parent, particularly an economist, is whether or not to reward your kids monetarily for higher school grades. Let me admit right here that this is how I was raised: something like 10 dollars for every subject I got an A, 5 dollars for a B and nothing for anything less.

From a standard economic point of view, the question is a no-brainer: the long-run advantages of doing well at school are enormous but ill-recognised by a young kid. Hence, more short-term monetary incentives repair the inability of the kid to rationally invest in the far future. Even if one has an exceptionally far-sighted kid, the damage of further rewards is minimal, so no harm done by rewarding them with money.

An array of further arguments goes the same direction; if parents get status-rents out of a kid that does well at school, then monetary rewards are basically a form of compensation for the effort the kid puts into producing services of value to the parents. Similarly, by introducing monetary compensation one encourages academic competition between siblings, further enhancing the academic success of all of them. The setting of monetary incentives furthermore prepares them for the world of work, as good school outcomes are primarily a ticket to that world anyway. Etc.

What about the negatives? One of the good reasons many parents don’t go in for it, I suspect, is because they have kids who differ a lot in academic ability and don’t want to end up giving one kid lots of money for high grades whilst the other kid has to suffer. So if the kids are far apart in ability, it is tough to do this.

Another possible reason is if one doesn’t want to crowd out internal motivation. This, I feel, depends a lot on the kid and the culture of the parents. If kids are prone to be motivated by things they know their parents find important, then the crowding out seems far-fetched. Indeed, parents offering money is then a symbol of their appreciation for grades. But if the kid is prone to want the opposite of what the parent signals to value, then offering money could lead them to tune out of the world of school completely just to avoid thinking of himself or herself that they are complying.

So who should pay for good grades? People whose kids are closely-matched in ability, prone to competitiveness, somewhat short-sighted, and eager to please the parents anyway.

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conrad
conrad
9 years ago

If you think of other types of rewards (holidays, a new toy etc.), then at least I get some sort of graded moral judgement out of it, with money on the bottom — somehow a holiday seems better than the money, even if it cost the same (I also seem to get age as a factor here also, so somehow it’s worse when kids are very young). Perhaps I must have some sort of internal objection to using purely money as a motivator for education (even if it didn’t crowd out internal motivation), which is presumably illogical given that I think other things are fine. I will have to blame my parents for not trying to bribe me to do well.

Cameron Murray
9 years ago

A few points.

1. If you are encouraging kids at younger ages with money rewards, they are not so valuable, since you still determine what they can spend it on (through your choice to supervise outings etc). For kids money is not worth the same when choices are restricted, and you might get better bang for your buck from other rewards.

2. Pocket money for contributions to household chores is culturally acceptable, but grade money is not. Weird to say the least, but seems very normal considering it is my culture.

3. Parents do pay for grade by choices of school. One big reason to send kids to private school is so they don’t get caught up in the wrong crowd. You use the peer pressure and competition for grades that these schools often have as a motivation (often as a result of other kid’s parent’s efforts).

4. Parents prefer to pass on the cultural norm that performing well at school is attractive for its own sake (even if that means some kind of social recognition, awards, prizes etc).

Do you pay your kids?

If my kids have a motivation problem I will probably offer them a choice of rewards.

Julie Thomas
Julie Thomas
9 years ago

“One of the good reasons many parents don’t go in for it, I suspect, is because they have kids who differ a lot in academic ability and don’t want to end up giving one kid lots of money for high grades whilst the other kid has to suffer. So if the kids are far apart in ability, it is tough to do this.”

In this circumstance, the idea would be to pay for or reward improvements in results for the child who is less academically inclined.

Behaviourism can be a very effective way of changing behaviour, if one understands what motivates the individual. I think this becomes more problematic for ‘non-mainstream’, ‘non-normal’ families in which children are more likely to fall under the influence of sub-cultures that value different things.

“But if the kid is prone to want the opposite of what the parent signals to value, then offering money could lead them to tune out of the world of school completely just to avoid thinking of himself or herself that they are complying.”

Interesting why some kids don’t want to ‘comply’; why is this so? It seems that right from the start there are kids with ‘difficult’ temperaments; so clearly ‘different’ people are a normal part of the human species, there to ensure that a society can change and adapt?

And obviously, to me anyway, the best society is one that gets the best from every member, so it is in everyone’s interests to work out how to ensure that every child grows up feeling part of the ‘mainstream”, and is motivated to try and ‘fit-in’ as well as they can rather than wanting to be ‘different’.

Motivation, is a very important part of intelligence that IQ tests don’t objectively measure.

Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
9 years ago

Conrad,
yes, I think many people have an unease with mixing family and monetary incentives, like the two belong to different worlds. Still, as you say, holidays and big gifts as rewards for particular achievements are somewhat similar in spirit.

Cameron,
I wonder how many people do pay for grades in Australia. Most people I know pay for grades, though usually not as explicit as i described. It is more the case that they give them a big gift when they get something specific, like an award, entry into a selective school, or high end-of-school grades.
But of course you are right that we parents manipulate their school effort mainly via the choice of school and peers. Compared to that, paying grades is small-fry.

Julie,
yes, motivation is a conundrum. As you say, the main question is what to do with sub-cultures that purposely reject the mainstream and its high valuation of education. In case it is merely unfamiliarity, the answer would be to re-educate willing parents. But if the answer is that the rejection comes out of being rewarded for being different as a group, either by a welfare system or by the pride aspect of the self-esteem of the deviant group, then it gets much harder.

Steve 1
Steve 1
9 years ago

We never reward on the outcome, we reward on the effort. I was always more interested in whether my kids were being good citizens in the class room and being a positive influence, working hard & contributing to the overall good. A mark is always arbitary and is onlly an invitation for a discussion. If you simply rerward the outcome then kids will think that you are only interested in the outcome and not actually interested in them as people.

Julie Thomas
Julie Thomas
9 years ago

Paul, I am quite sure that welfare payments do not constitute the preferred alternative for any of the many people I have encountered who depend on it for their income; it is not that simple.

There are non welfare cultures who do not value education. I met a 10 year old the other day who comes from a rural home in which dad is illiterate. This boy does not care for school, sees no need for it; dad is a fencer and the son can look at a piece of land and calculate how many fence posts are needed, instantly. He’s not autistic or anything like that; he’s very clever but would probably not do well on an IQ test for various reasons mostly to do with familiarity and motivation.

But of course, most of the sub-cultures that reject education as a way out of poverty, do come from the welfare class. I watched 4 corners last night and saw Peter Garrett telling the kids at a disadvantaged high school that they could do anything they want. The average intelligence kids might believe this for a while, but the highly intelligent know that it is simply crap and it is not possible for them to do ‘anything you want’ without a whole lot of advantages – financial emotional and intellectual – that they won’t be able to get.

So, knowing you can’t win, why try? It’s just asking for more pain and loss of self-esteem. So they find a culture that does value them and their ‘difference’. It seems to me that this is a sane way to cope with the reality that someone always has to fail in the competitive society we have created, if one is the sort of person who doesn’t cope with failure, who doesn’t know how to try try try again.

Quote from The Simpson which is a great cultural primer “”Kids, you tried your best, and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.” = Homer

And…what about the emo sub-culture? What does that say about how we bring up our kids? Emo’s are middle class kids who seemingly choose to be depressed, choose to self-harm and want to have a ‘borderline personality disorders’. How weird is that?

Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
9 years ago

julie,

yes, I agree with most of that. Protecting self-esteem is very understandable and normal. though its off-topic, let me answer your querie for this kind of issue is debated often here on Troppo.

The answers our society come up with when faced with those who reject our values are those you would expect: mainly, we keep pushing kids and sub-cultures to adopt the ideals of the mainstream, complete with a set of ‘role models’ that fit those ideals. If we find people who do well without adopting those values, then that is fine as long as they are not a problem. If we find out a whole sub-culture really cannot be ground down within a generation, we build a little silo around them so that their attitudes don’t affect too many others, and we in the meantime keep pushing them to adapt anyway. We start to create artificial role models and jobs for them. Hell, we are even prepared to invent non-education so that they can pretend to themselves they are succeeding and adopt our ideals. In some extreme cases, we give up and put them in prison or declare them independent. But we mainly throw resources at them until they or their grandchildren come around to our point of view.
What we don’t really do is truly adopt their views or take their point of view seriously. This goes as much for the welfare dependent as for the depressed middle-class kids. We simply wouldn’t know how to take their point of view, and we cannot but empathize with what they are missing out on despise them for their weakness. Nor would it help them for all we have to offer is an image of what works in our society, not theirs.

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
9 years ago
Reply to  Paul Frijters

The most important, essentiall, part of education is the zero to 7 years part, and that mostly happens out of school. We spend a lot of time and money on higher (post year 6) education and neglect the stuff that is foundational to life.
Early childhood in an dull narrow environment that alternates between blank indifference ,random brutality and equally random indulgence is not much of a basis to build character on.

perplexed
perplexed
9 years ago

As a kid I got rewarded and on an exponential scale as I recall. My father was a maths teacher and knew his logarhythmic scales. A pass would score a minimum but as
you progressed…C+ B B+…prospects improved very incentively. I did the same with my own two kids and they too were very keen. Must be innate.

Pappinbarra Fox
Pappinbarra Fox
9 years ago

Hmmm rewarding kids for doing somerthing that they would normally be keen to do anyway … is all value of education to be reduced to a monetary one? Nothing about personal improvement being its own reward? Just talking to kids about their day and showing interest in what they have learned? I dunno I give up!

Patrick
Patrick
9 years ago

We have recently started using non-financial rewards in two ways:
1. Spontaneously for particular achievements/results (such as No 1’s recent NAPLAN results) or No 2’s particularly clear articulation on stage);
2. As part of a program for sustained achievement (for No 1, for example, access to minecraft if he maintains a rolling three week average of perfect scores – this is a bit of a stretch goal but is starting to have the desired effect of getting him to think differently about his tests).

We focus much more, however, on showing enthusiastic and genuine appreciation for significant progress. For example, we made a massive fuss over No 2 recently when he answered a simple multiplication, since we hadn’t expected him to get it right. Unfortunately, No 1 seems rather blase to this now, so we have moved to point 2 above :(