- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 13, 2006

It’s time for women to demand a raise. According to salary.com, a full-time stay-at-home mom would earn $134,121 if paid for her work. These experts in compensation surveyed 400 mothers and found the stay-at-home mom is part day-care worker, housekeeper, cook, computer operator, laundry machine operator, janitor, facilities manager, van driver, chief executive and psychologist.

In the spirit of Mother’s Day, it’s appropriate to contemplate the undervalued contribution of stay-at-home moms. Even salary.com’s list of job responsibilities overlooks several roles stay-at-home moms assume: They are first-line-of-defense law enforcement officers, protecting children with their presence in our neighborhoods; they are teaching assistants, manning the field trips and fund-raisers that help keep our schools running; they are the good Samaritans who make communities work, assuring the elderly neighbor’s walk is shoveled and the dog running down the street is safely returned to his owner.

It’s an interesting exercise to calculate the cost of replacing full-time moms with hired help, but it shouldn’t be taken too far. In reality, a job posting offering $134,000 to fill the duties of a housewife would be flooded with resumes. Of course, few families could pay that salary. Supply and demand ultimately would meet at a sum close to what’s typically earned by a live-in nanny or housekeeper.

A critical flaw in the salary.com estimate is that it ignores the question of who would pay this salary. The study claims the average housewife spends 4.2 hours a week acting as a chief executive officer. According to salary.com, the hourly rate for a CEO is $176.44 per hour, therefore the housewife CEO ought to receive almost $36,000 for performing similar duties. She’s also supposed to receive nearly $11,000 for being a housekeeper, more than $3,000 for being a “van driver,” and $11,500 for being a facilities manager.

So who is this supermom supposed to go to for her raise? The truth is that no one is going to pay her. Her family directly benefits from her work as a CEO — the rest of society’s interest in her individual decisions is minimal. She also has the most to gain from cleaning her kitchen, chauffeuring her kids and repairing her home. The CEO of a Fortune 500 company, by contrast, is expected to create wealth and value for hundreds of thousands of shareholders and customers.

All adults, not just mothers, perform varied tasks. A single man is his own CEO, making a strategic plan for his life, allocating his resources, and weighing big decisions. Single women must drive themselves, clean up their homes, and manage their household. Is the single woman who fixes herself a sandwich supposed to demand pay as a cook?

Salary.com likely focuses on mothers because in most families with children, women take on a disproportionate share of unpaid duties while men earn more income. Money is power, according to the old adage, and so stay-at-home moms are supposed to feel powerless.

But placing a number on a mom’s value misses the point. Women perform these duties because they love their families. Moms aren’t day-care providers worth $14 per hour. They are loving parents driven to care for those tiny beings who are more precious to them than any amount of money. Serving as your child’s “psychologist” and your home’s “facility manager” isn’t work. It’s the essence of life. Your compensation isn’t measured in dollars but in building a life that you love.

In the interest of fairness, salary.com might examine the compensation warranted by a typical husband’s responsibilities. My husband is part handyman, plumber, electrician, garbage man, mechanic, electronic technician, computer operator, and baby sitter. The salary he could claim if he parsed out these chores would be far more than my daughter or I could afford.

Good thing families don’t work like that. Life is payment enough.

CARRIE LUKAS

Author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex and Feminism” and vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women’s Forum.

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