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May 12 2006

Mothers Don't Go on Strike

Women deserve a raise. According to salary.com, a full-time stay-at-home mom would earn $134,121 if only she were paid for her work. These experts in compensation surveyed 400 mothers and found that the stay-at-home mom is part daycare 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 they 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 fundraisers that help keep our schools running. They are the good Samaritans who make communities work, assuring that the elderly neighbor's walk is shoveled and that the dog running down the street is safely returned to his owner.

It's an interesting exercise to calculate the cost of replacing these women 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.

Salary.com ignores the important question of who would pay this salary. The study claims that the average housewife spends 4.2 hours a week acting as a CEO. The hourly rate for a CEO is $176.44 per hour; therefore the housewife CEO ought to receive almost $36,000 for her CEO duties. She's also supposed to receive nearly $11,000 for being a housekeeper, $3,000 for being a "van driver," and $11,500 for being a facilities manager.

Who is this supermom supposed to go to for her raise? The truth is no one is going to pay her. Her family benefits from her work as a CEO, but the rest of society gains little from her individual efforts. She also profits most 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 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 focus on earning 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 daycare 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" not 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, electronics technician, computer operator, and babysitter. 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 is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex and Feminism and the vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women's Forum.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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