Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mom's "Salary" -- A Few Further Thoughts

From Ash:

We've gotten some responses to my earlier post on an annual report about how much mothers would get as salary -- if they were financially compensated for their roles as day care teacher, janitor, etc. These responses made me want to blog a little further about my take on this, because I really think that incomplete, and misleading information like this doesn't serve anyone -- and, if anything, it ultimately serves to devalue the role of mothers in our society.

First, in terms of its methodology, nowhere can I find any particulars about their "study" (I use the term loosely). It's a study about time-use, but they don't seem to adjust for parental income, education or ethnicity, all of which drastically effect parental time use. Instead, they do allow you to adjust for number of children and your zip code -- but that's just a fraction of the variables that really need to be examined.

I can't find a survey-sample-size or methodology -- which is important because people are inaccurate when asked to describe their time. So if it was just ask-you-over-the-phone, "how many hours a day are you with your kid?" that may have little bearing on what a mother actually does.

Why are things like that a problem? Because their numbers aren't consistent with those from longitudinal and short-term time studies. (Particularly, they seem to significantly inflate the amount of time mothers spend with their children.) But I can't fully analyze their information, because I don't have any of their data.

Another problem: I can't find definitions for the jobs they used for the tasks they translated motherhood-related tasks into. For example, the report has hampered me by not specifically saying what their model stay-at-home mom is doing to be entitled to described as a CEO for 4.6 hours a week.

I commented on that before. Since then, I've heard arguments that mothers are, in fact, CEOs. They've said that I overestimate the amount of training and education that CEOs have, and that mothers' have "on the job" experience. They've also made the point that dishonest CEOs would benefit from a mother's experience running the family budget.

Now, I'm sure that the numbers of women holding college degrees is on the increase, but still, it's still less than one-third. In 1990, just about 18% of mothers of children under 12 had a degree. I don't have a number, but the US Department of Labor says that top executives frequently have college degrees and other advanced training.

And I think it's a sad reflection on our society that we presume all CEOs are as crooked as those of Enron et al. have been alleged to be. But I don't believe that to be true. And just as skeptical am I of that position, I'm also mindful of the fact that -- lest I be struck for lightning for this -- not all mothers are Madonnas, either.)

Now, my guess is that, the Mom as CEO means that Moms are "scheduling personnel" (i.e., figuring out who will take the kids to soccer) or handling finances (paying the bills, doing the family budget, etc.), etc. But each of those job descriptions could apply not just to a CEO, equally well to an office manager or an accountant as well. I did all of those sorts of tasks (badly, I admit), back when I was an assistant making $400 for a 80-hour week. But a Mom CEO would get paid almost $40,000 a year for that as a half-day a week job? Please, oh, please, someone send me the ad for that real job.

If the point of this was that it was supposed to boost a mom's self-esteem, it gave her a completely distorted perspective. If the point of the analogy was to get a CEO to respect a mother -- my guess is it did the opposite. Gave that CEO a good laugh at the watercooler.

Similarly, the report assumes that the free-market salaries that they are a just reflection of what tasks are really worth. Is a CEO's work worth 5 or 20 times as much as his assistant's and hundreds of times the worth of a construction worker?

Why is it that uneducated illegal immigrants get paid under the table and as little as possible to be nannies for children of our nation's wealthiest? Why is it that the traditional job for a teenage girl is babysitting (i.e. child rearing)?

Does anyone think that teachers really get a salary that reflects their impact of their performance on those children's lives and the larger society as a whole? They are just as undervalued as mothers are.

So to translate a mother's nonrecognition into the monetary nonrecognition of a day care teacher is illogical at best. It's not quite as bad as when I worked for free as an intern, and my boss offered me a 100% raise -- 100% of nothing is still nothing -- but it comes awfully close.

Most importantly of all, beyond an uncertain methodology, but tied into the idea that pretty much all of childrearing-activities are grossly underappreciated and undercompensated, I believe that mothers are enormously undervalued in our society, and misinformation like this report is worse than no information at all.

Po and I have spent a lot of time studying and writing about parental involvement. And we're constantly amazed how influential that involvement is -- how it impacts every aspect of that child's life. So I strongly believe that vainglorious promotions like the report don't serve to further our appreciation of motherhood. If anything, reports like that just further distort and devalue parents' roles.

If the only way we can convince a mother or her peers that the time that mother spends with her child is valuable is to put an actual price tag on it, I think that's pretty tragic. In fact, it says more about our society than I really want to know.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a mom of 3 children under the age of 12 with a college degree (and who is working on a master's)I can see your points, but also see the point of the estimation. You summed it up in your last paragraph. The problem is that society and even many of our husbands do not value our work at home (and in carpool and at birthday parties and in grocery stores, etc.). You are correct, in that, what moms (and teachers) do will never be able to have an accurate monetary value. However, if it takes making up a monetary value to get men to realize just some of the things we do, then we'll do that.
I find it interesting that you mentioned a statistic that says only 1/3 of women with children under 12 have a college degree. College degees are not all that they are cracked up to be. I am a former high school math and science teacher. I now run a preschool. I have worked with teachers with college degrees who couldn't teach their way out of a paper bag. I've taught with other teachers who have no college degree, but 20+ years of teaching who are phenomenal teachers. And in my experience it has been balanced (neither is the exception to the rule).
I also find it interesting, in today's world where so many moms do work outside the home, that most of those moms are also still doing most of the work at home.
I wish that I had the answer as to how to make society realize moms' worth.

7:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm callous, but I find it amusing that people got up in arms about the logic of your analyses.

The problem with the study is this: (1) it places no value on the male counterpart's contributions outside of merely "bringing home the bacon"...should he (or she, to be fair) be compensated to the tune of a professional sports coach for coaching little league games? Do most husbands contribute nothing to "running the family"?

(2) it fails to consider this: CEOs make money because they direct their companies to profitability...their pay is usually a reflection of the "thing" that they "produce"...if the CEO of a family's role is mainly to direct his/her family to "success," then his or her pay would be a reflection of that: esteem for having reared successful children, for instance.

Not to mention that the "CEO" of a 4 or 5 person company probably doesn't exactly rake in astronomical amounts of money.

It's a shame that so many women feel unappreciated such that they find solace in the "study." However, we all feel unappreciated in our jobs from time to time. Having children and staying home with them is a choice you make with your spouse. If you need monetary compensation to see the intrinsic value in what you do, perhaps you're more suited to the corporate world.

Be warned, though: the competition and job security aren't nearly on par.

8:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just posted a comment, and I'd like to add an addendum:

I reiterate that it's a shame that so many women feel unappreciated for their contributions and are forced to carry most of the water for their family. But that's not the case for all families.

To that end, corporations with a poor management system will typically fail. Those with effective management systems and happy employees and executives tend to thrive.

I hope you can see the parallel.

8:09 AM  

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