June 15, 2021

What are Mothers Worth?

Salary.com decided to do its yearly estimate for what a mother is worth. This year, the price is up:

A full-time stay-at-home mother would earn $134,121 a year if paid for all her work, an amount similar to a top U.S. ad executive, a marketing director or a judge, according to a study released on Wednesday.A mother who works outside the home would earn an extra $85,876 annually on top of her actual wages for the work she does at home, according to the study by Waltham, Massachusetts-based compensation experts Salary.com.

To reach the projected pay figures, the survey calculated the earning power of the 10 jobs respondents said most closely
comprise a mother’s role — housekeeper, day-care teacher, cook, computer operator, laundry machine operator, janitor, facilities manager, van driver, chief executive and psychologist.

And yet, OpinionJournal has something to add:

Believe it or not, this is even more ridiculous than it sounds. … This is a weirdly patriarchal way of conceiving of a family: The husband, Salary.com is suggesting, “owns” the family; his wife is merely his most senior employee.

If Salary.com abandoned this retrograde, patriarchal view of marriage and conceived of it instead as a partnership between equals, its effort to quantify a mother’s work would look quite different. Husbands and wives alike both contribute to and benefit from the household economy, and a fair accounting of the costs and benefits would have to take into account such things as these:

  • The wife may do a disproportionate share of the household work, but she also benefits from it at least as much as her husband does. Thus her imputed salary should be cut in half right off the bat.
  • Since the husband (in a family with a stay-at-home mom and no significant investment income) is the sole source of cash flow, he is responsible for all the family’s expenses. Half of the family’s housing costs, for example, should be deducted from the wife’s imputed salary to cover her rent.
  • The wife’s imputed salary would be reduced further for work her husband did around the house–managing the family finances, mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage, setting up electronic equipment, etc.
  • The Salary.com numbers are based on the assumption that a mother spends 4.2 hours a week acting as “chief executive officer,” due a six-figure salary (slightly more than $400,000 in New York City). This would mean that the more domineering the husband–the more he acts as if he is the family’s CEO–the poorer the wife would be.


When factors like this are taken into account, a wife could very easily end up owing her husband money.

But of course that’s not the point; the point is that the whole crass exercise is absurd. Marriage is, to be sure, in part an economic arrangement, but not a mercenary one. Rather, it is one in which two people subsume their individuality in the interest of a greater good: their love for each other and for their children. One has to wonder if Salary.com isn’t simply engaging in a sly satire of the every-man-for-himself ethos of capitalism.

In either case, thank God for your mother and wish her well on days other than Mother’s Day!

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One thought on “What are Mothers Worth?

  1. Don’t I wish I could earn that type of cash! I am not a full-time mommy and part-time worker outside the home. Too bad that amount couldn’t become a reality.

    However, if the government did start paying moms for their hard work I am sure there would be women who would find a way to ruin it all. It never fails. Greed is an ugly thing.

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