Thursday, May 04, 2006

"Mom's Salary" Report -- More Harm Than Good

From Ash:

You may be seeing reports of a new study from that determined a stay-at-home mom would earn about $134,000 if she were paid for her efforts.

Now, I'm all for considering the real value of unpaid contributions to a family. But this is a half-baked publicity stunt that just shouldn't be taken seriously.

First, they labeled tasks by job descriptions in other professions. For example, they looked at how some mothers decide how much money a family should budget -- hmm. CEO's make budget decisions, so moms do CEO-level work for 4.2 hours every week. She deserves $40,000 for those 4 hours. I'm not by any means disparging the difficulties in family budgeting (Lord knows, I can't do it), but to say family budgeting is equivalent to the responsibilities of a trained corporate CEO is simply asinine.

Similarly, they think that Mom should be paid as a family psychologist for her 3.9 hours weekly that she evaluates her children. But a professional psychologist has professional degrees, training, and expertise -- more is involved than just trying to ask a kid why they are upset. So to label Mom as a psychologist demeans the value of that profession -- and the emotional concerns of both mother and child.

The study suggests the average mom is a housekeeper for 22 hours a week, plus a laundry machine operator for 7 hours a week, plus a janitor for another 7 hours a week. Well, the truth is, American moms haven't done that much housework and cleaning in decades (we spend 3 hours less a day taking care of our house than we did fifty years ago).

They also fail to make a distinction between being the parent responsible for a child (who might be playing in the other room) and actually interacting with the child face-to-face. Because of this, they seriously overstate the number of hours per week a Mom spends on childcare. And here, they don't account for the effect of education in a mother's interaction with a child -- which is dramatic.

By the way, if you're a mom surfing this post online right now as casual entertainment, says you should get paid as a "computer operator" for 9 hours a week.

When they add it up, they suggest that the "typical stay-at-home mom" is working 91 hours a week. Which is why they suggest that a working mom also deserves $85K a year for the 50 hours a week she's at home. What about the Dads? I know Dads just watch television, and yell at the idiot box, but shouldn't they be paid like television executives for having such strong opinions? Or at least be paid like security guards, who watch monitors all night? Maybe the Dads should be paid for sleeping, too - because they're keeping the house safe just by being there. says it did not want its study to become fodder in the heated Mommy Wars. But by creating an absurd accounting that rivals Enron's financials for accuracy, they have instantly jumped into the Mommy Wars with guns blazing.

They did get one thing right -- working mothers sleep less.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting comments about the "salary" of a stay at home mom.

Just curious to know if you plan to write a post about the "Mommy track" if it really exists?

My Mom went to Boalt Law in 1960 when very few women were going to law school. She really wanted to be a schoolteacher so she dropped out of Law school. She said the LSAT was very different from the LSAT that I took. She transferred to the School of Education at Berkeley and got her teaching certificate.

She loved teaching. After she married several years later and had me two years after marriage. She had to fight to get a 3 month maternity leave but it was called sick leave because there was not anything like maternity leave. When she took three months leave to stay home with me, she chose the teacher to substitute for her and she had a job waiting for her when she came back.

She was very lucky because I heard that many women lose their jobs because they have babies. They do not have a job waiting for them when they return to work. I do not know if that still happens.

I was reading in the San Francisco Chronicle that a member of the SF Board of Supervisor had a baby a few weeks ago BUT she has NO maternity leave at all. I was surprised.

I really hope that you can let readers know about the current status of the Mommy track.

And perhaps another post about the Family Leave Act that President Clinton signed into law. Was it a good law? Why or why not?

Thanks again for a great read!

7:40 AM  
Blogger Andreia said...


In reading your comments on this post I couldnt help but get frustrated. I understand that may not be 100% accurate in their assessment but I dont understand the necessity in devaluing stay at home mothers.

Why does placing a pretend value on being home threaten working women?? I will never get it.

First, you assume that when someone is given/earns the title of CEO, that they are "trained" and completely knowledgable. Countless numbers of CEOs and CFOs could stand to learn the lessons of a family of six on a tight budget. (Enron comes to mind) You would like us to accept that by virtue of the zeros in their budgets, that their work is somehow more important than ours.

In many cases it is the SAHMs balancing of the budget sometimes by such unimaginable tasks like cooking at home (GASP) and bargain-hunting (oh NO!) that create the opportunities for the children in those families to seek higher education.

I don't begrudge women that take path of employment to achieve this goal. I will be joining them soon. Why would they begrudge me for choosing my path for the last 10 years?

Any parent knows that there is no way that 3.9 hours a day can account for the work as a family psychologist that many (not all) mothers do each and every day. I dont pretend to suggest that trained people in this field do not have their place. But for you to suggest that mothers are unqualified is ridiculous at best.

There is no amount of schooling that can account for the lessons learned in actually DOING the job. If we accept your proposition that moms are only trained to ask kids why they are upset, then does it follow that all "problems" (broken hearts, trouble with teachers) can only be solved by psychologists?

By the way, I trained my kids to do their own laundry which in your scheme would reduce my ficticious salary. If I used the same skills at a JOB I would be heralded as a MENTOR or a LEADER and might be eligible for real raise or bonus.

Funny, isn't it?

3:04 PM  
Blogger Ashley Merryman said...

I'm going to respond to these in a new post.

10:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You sound like me about 10 years ago. Do you have any kids??? Have you ever watched anyone elses kids??
I have 3 young children. I gave up a wonderful job to stay home with them. I have had many jobs in my life, but staying home with 3 kids is by far the hardest. I have been home with them since they were born...there were 3 of them under the age of 3 at one time. I got no sleep, and really never sat down...even walked around nursing the 3rd child, because inevitably one of the others would want something the moment I tried to sit.
My husband works 7 days a week. I recently got so frustrated watching them all the time that I returned to the workforce for a short time... IT WAS A VACATION!!!! But, I felt so guilty and missed them so much, that I have decided to now stay home until they are all in school.
I make 3 meals a day for a family of 5, clean the house, do all the laundry, wash the car, do some yardwork, shop for all necessities (including kids clothes, etc.), plan activities for them to do each day, balance the checkbook, tend to them when they are sick, take them to Dr.'s, play with them, swim with them, bathe them, and much, much, much more. Now, add up the cost of daycare for 3 children, then add up what it would cost you to have someone do all of the above tasks for you EVERY DAY necessary. THATS where the salary comes from...not from a ridiculous comparison to some overfed, corner office, CEO that makes a fortune. Its. just the cost of having every day tasks done.
Hope that helps clear things up for you...if you ever want to fill in for me a day (since you obviously view it as a simple job), just let me know...I'd love a day off.

11:13 PM  
Blogger Ashley Merryman said...

I'd ask you to please re-read my post, and then read my subsequent post regarding the survey.
I'd also suggest reading our Time piece on the Mommy Wars.

As I've tried (repeatedly) to make clear, I do not, in any way, believe that parenting is easy, nor do I discount the value of parenting. Instead, I think it is surveys like this that devalue it, because they are poorly considered and poorly executed.

Rather than educate anyone on anything, reports like these get undue media attention because they play on a mother's fears of being unappreciated. Which obviously works, all too well. The result of which is that any attempt to challenge the flaws of the report is taken -- wrongly -- as an attempt to dismiss the institution of motherhood. Which is exactly what the report authors hope occurs. Because it just keeps their report alive, when it should not even appear in the media to begin with.

And I use the term "report" loosely, because what is really going on here is a publicity stunt.

As a couple examples of the further discussion in my other post, the flaws of this "report," the folks believe that childrearing should be valued at the pay scale of a day care worker while paying the bills should be considered at a CEO rate, which makes no sense. Paying the bills is not why the CEO gets the big bucks. On the other hand, most everyone believes that child care workers (from day care staffer to teacher) are usually grossly underpaid and grossly unappreciated by society.

So surveys like this operate on the false premise that people out in the workforce are valued according to their ultimate worth/contribution to society, when we all know that isn't true.

I'd also like to reiterate my feeling that if society can only convince mothers that they are valuable by offering them a financial scorecard, essentially a bill for their family, I think that's tragic.

7:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having children is a choice, a personal choice. If you haven't done the cost-benefit analysis, don't have kids. But don't expect the general public to think so highly of SAHMs.

I clean my home, I manage my I expect to be paid for it? I play psychologist to my friends, etc. But it's stupid to put a monetary value on it.

If you don't have to work or would prefer to stay at home, own up to it. But don't pretend it's more than what it is.

11:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sure, there is value inherent in parenting activities. So? What raises my ire in such things is the insinuation that working mothers have two "jobs" - one at work, one at home - while working fathers have only one job.

It has been my experience that mothers and fathers both are kept busy with parenting duties. Perhaps the division of labor is not always precisely even, but on average, that is what I have always observed.

Unfortunately, pointing out that parenting takes work and can be assigned value for both men and women doesn't grab headlines.

The term chauvinism comes to mind - female chaivinism.

9:40 AM  

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