Economic Woman

Econometrics, gender, equity and more.

The mom salary, or lack thereof

with 2 comments has estimated this year’s unpaid “mom salary” at nearly $117,000. Every year around mother’s day, this study estimates the value of stay-at-home mothers using a rudimentary time use survey paired with data on how much it would cost to hire a professional cook, laundry machine operator, janitor, psychologist and more. One of the reasons that the salary hits six figures is that in this imaginary world, parents are paid for overtime!

What you won’t read in most newspaper articles is that also estimates a salary for additional work done by working mothers, and it’s a substantial $68,405 a year.

They also estimate the value of stay at home fathers, at slightly less than their female counterparts:

Despite dad’s long hours at home, the research indicates that mothers still typically assume a disproportionate share of the workload at home, even if they’re working outside the home. The average stay-at-home dad reported working 80.2 hours per week in his role while stay-at-home moms reported an average of 91.8 hours per week.

Commenters on Feministing have been revising that initial $117,000 downwards by confusing the value of informal caregiving services with the caregiver’s opportunity cost – in this case, how much stay at home parents would make if they left home and re-entered the formal sector. Needless to say, that’s an entirely different issue.

All of this is a pop culture approach to something that feminist scholars have acknowledged for years – women do a whole lot of informal, unpaid labour. With that in mind, I went looking for a scholarly equivalent of this study, but strangely enough I couldn’t find it. There are studies on hours of work – remember this post – but there must be some child care equivalent of this study on the economic value of informal caregiving for the disabled, right? Perhaps one of you can help me out in comments.


Written by Allison

5 June 2008 at 12:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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  1. I just read the comments in Feministing, and it seems to me that the biggest reason for revising the salary downwards wasn’t the opportunity cost of the SAHM, but the simple fact that the managerial and cooking tasks required by the SAHM role are not as difficult as the managerial and cooking tasks required by an average CEO or chef.

    In addition, the qualifications needed to be a good SAHM are (in my opinion) good common sense and some life skills that most people already need in order to take care of themselves, let alone others. These are skills that almost all people have. And we know from looking at the job market that when jobs do not have very specialised skill requirements, they tend to have low salaries.

    I think a more interesting estimate (that was discussed in the Feministing comments) would be to take the 40 hours worked per week plus ~60 hours of overtime and multiply that by some minimum wage, say $7 per hour. That comes out that a SAHM’s work is worth about $50,000, at an absolute minimum.

    Obviously the true value is somewhere between these two figures. However, I suspect it’s a bit closer to $50,000 than it is to $120,000, and I think it does a disservice to the argument that women’s work is not valued to use estimates that are not realistic.


    5 June 2008 at 8:22 pm

  2. If these numbers are true, why is it surprising (or depressing, for that matter) that women enter the labor force at lower rates than men?

    Certainly most women couldn’t make six figures if they opted to enter the workforce.

    That said, the six figure number is probably a bit dubious. I assume the estimate was based upon the mean value of the cost to hire a professional cook, laundry machine operator, janitor, psychologist, etc.

    There is no plausible reason to think that any non-professional person could approach the average level of productivity within a given industry.

    The large majority of stay-at-home parents simply provide low quality services because they are not able to specialize. Thus it is highly unlikely, that the value of these services amount to six figures.

    Joey Staudt

    12 June 2008 at 1:42 pm

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