Mothers should earn $134k a year?

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Salary.com is touting a "study" which claims to show that the equivalent salary for a stay-at-home mother is $134,121/year. Just. can't. help. myself.

First, a brief description of their methodology: they surveyed mothers for the top 10 equivalent jobs and then pro-rated their salaries by the number of hours the mothers reported doing the equivalent jobs. This gives you the following table:

The Stay-at-Home Mom's Salary    
Mom Job Title
Mom's Work Week (hours)
Mom's Salary
(dollars)
     
Housekeeper
22.1
$10,980
Day Care Center Teacher
15.7
$10,817
Cook
13.6
$10,862
Computer Operator
9.1
$7,151
Laundry Machine Operator
6.7
$3,133
Janitor
6.3
$3,713
Facilities manager
5.8
$11,508
Van Driver
4.2
$3,334
CEO
4.2
$35,971
Psychologist
3.9
$7,176

So, the first thing you should notice is that some of the equivalences here are deeply silly. Probably the worst is "CEO". To the extent that a mother's role in the household is like a CEO's role in a company, it's a very small company. Prorating $35K/year at 4.2 hours to a 40 hour workweek gives you an annual salary of $350K or so, which is a lot more than the CEO of your average 4-person company makes. Facilities manager and psychologist are pretty lame too. There's a big difference between seeing patients in a professional capacity and consoling your children when their boyfriends break up with them. This point is important because these three jobs alone account for less than 16% of the hours that stay-at-home mothers are claimed to work but over 50% of the total imputed salary, so if you use more comparable positions the numbers drop quite a bit.

Even with this fudging of the numbers, the imputed salary is only $105k. To get up to $134k, they have to count "overtime" (time and a half) for the hours worked over 40 hours a week. But of course most jobs that pay well (e.g., CEO) are salaried, exempt, positions, so you don't get paid overtime. Nice bit of double-counting there.

The final problem is that this whole notion of equivalent salaries that includes domestic work is kind of problematic as a comparative notion, unless you also remember to add it into the imputed salaries of the people comparing against. I.e., I make $X/year but I do $Y/year worth of housework, so we have to remember that when we compare against the Stay-at-Home-Mom's imputed salary. We all do lots of stuff for ourselves (or others) that we could pay somebody else to do, so just adding that stuff into the Mom's calculation to compare it against people's actual monetary salaries is quite misleading. Just because you changed a lightbulb doesn't mean you get to claim that you're working as an electrician.

None of this is to dispute that mothers, whether Stay-At-Home or Working (yeah, yeah, every mother is a working mother, but you know what I mean) work hard. I know a number of them and clearly they do. However, the computation Salary.com offers doesn't really advance our understanding of that in any way, though it does appear to have accomplished the more important goal of getting them news coverage.

5 Comments

Yeah, but just try actually pointing out these counterarguments to your stay-at-home wife, and see where it gets you....

(No, of course I didn't. You think I'm crazy?)

From the article:

Salary.com has now valuated the "mom job"
VALUATED?

Aiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

It's fun that you made fun of this :) But beyond the criticisms you made, what's next?

  • A social worker makes $41000 (national average) rather than the better-trained psychologist making $73600
  • A sole proprietor of a coffee shop keeps a small percentage of revenue. Bizstats.com suggests 6% for food services. A Starbucks may have a yearly revenue of $782000. That calculates to over $40000 but let's round down to $40000 for the sake of conservatism, and use this to replace the CEO salary.
  • Instead of facilities manager, let's just reuse the janitor salary because the Mom isn't trained as a facilities manager.

Replacing these gives me a pre-overtime salary equivalence of $61,615. If we model the job as a no-overtime job -- same salary no matter how many hours worked -- we can average the jobs at about $13/hour or $26906.

Is that fair? Is it still too high? Is it now too low? Is it a stupid exercise beyond the flaws you already pointed out?


[This comment was posted under the name "Eric Rescorla" since I didn't post it, I've edited the name out. -- EKR]

This is absurd. You can't count the salary if you can't get anyone to pay you for it. In this hilarious blog on the topic, she counts up the salary her dog would get if it was paid for all its chores...

Actually, getting someone to pay you is not strictly necessary. An alternative formulation is what you would have to pay someone else.

In this Economist article, they talk about women's contribution to GDP. In one formulation, they count the contribution of stay-at-home mothers in terms of what they would have had to pay domestic workers as substitutes:

http://www.economist.com/opinion/displayStory.cfm?story_id=6800723

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