Sunday, February 7, 2010

What Is It All Worth?

On Friday, Big Little Wolf posted a passionate and provocative piece about the value - both monetary and metaphysical - of parenting.  Both the post and a comment by my buddy Jane - about an article she had read attaching a dollar value to the job a mother does - buzzed around my brain for the rest of the day and into the weekend.


I thought of the presumption with which I live my life - operating under the assumption that, because things have worked out up to this point, they will continue to.

I thought of the folly of presumption. 

I thought of the words I've often heard my mother say: "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

I thought of some other words of hers: "When you assume, you make an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me.'"


I thought of an hourly wage formula I once saw in an article about "hiring help."  A formula a woman could use to figure out how much her time is worth in order to decide when it is in her best economic interest to pay someone else to do a household chore or project.

The equation? Take your annual salary, remove the last three digits, and divide by two.  So, if you make $50,000 per year, you drop the last three 0's, divide by 2, and arrive at a $25 hourly wage.

According to the article, at that salary, if you can find someone to do a job that you don't want to do or don't have time to do for less than $25 per hour, then it makes sense to do so from a strict cost-benefit perspective.

So let's see...The salary for the profession of parenting is $0. If we remove the last three digits, we're still at $0. When we divide by 2...still $0.

Hmm...I'm guessing that a parent wouldn't be able to find anyone to clean her windows or babysit his kids for less than $0 an hour.


I thought about an article I read last year - perhaps the very one Jane read - in which a human resources group attempted to calculate the value of a mother's work. The number they came up with for a stay-at-home mom? $138,095, when you factor in the "ten jobs that moms do on an average day: housekeeper, day care center teacher, cook, computer operator, laundry machine operator, janitor, facilities manager, van driver, CEO, and psychologist." 

Who exactly is willing to pay that salary, the article did not specify.

But I'm on the look-out, BLW, for you, and for all of us.


I've written before about the value of teaching.

I'm thinking now about the value of parenting.  About the ways in which we tacitly assign meaning to different types of work by the money we are willing to pay people to do it. 

And I'm thinking that my boys should take up golf.  It seems to pay well.  And I hear there's an opening at the top.

What professions should be compensated most highly?  Did financial factors steer you toward or away from a certain career?  

Would you like to come over and babysit my boys for <$0/hour?

Image: 337/365: The Big Money by DavidDMuir via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.


  1. Kristen,

    They didn't put butt-wiper in the description? Hey now, that's a big part of my job lately, so I think it needs to be in there! :p

    Laughing a little at the $0. Reminds me of that scene in Animal House where the dean is chewing out the Delta House for their grades, reading their GPA's aloud. He gets to Belushi and says "Blutarski...Zero.Point.Zero."

    We are the proud! The Zero.Point.Zeros.

  2. So much to think about here!
    I've read many interesting articles, lists and manifestos, too, about the dollar value attached to working (childcare, wardrobe, fuel, meals, tax brackets...). Ultimately, I'd like to work from home or simply for my home, and there's value attached to what expenses I'll no longer have. I like to think, "I'll be paying myself $this much when I stop working."
    I'll always believe that teachers deserve high standards and excellent compensation. Airline pilots seem to be getting the short end of the stick, too.
    Not to mention those poor NBA stars!

  3. Financial factors steered me to being a stay at home mom... when I realized that I would be bringing home close to zero after paying for childcare (a whole entire other post!) with my very minimal salary.
    But I didn't love my job. It was just a job, not a career.
    Teachers deserve much higher pay. I've always felt that way - we're entrusting them with teach our children... that's worth a very pretty penny in my book.

  4. Value of parenting...priceless.
    Rewards or bonuses...undending.
    Would you trade jobs...never.
    This was a wonderful post.

  5. Thank you, Kristen. For your thoughtful extension of the conversation. As always.

    If nothing else, may I be a cautionary tale of sorts. I juggled full-time parenting and a full-time career for many years, with a (nearly) absentee husband. Laid off at the time of my divorce, a Family Court Judge looked at my degrees, my previous earnings, and basically assumed I'd be "fine."

    Never factoring in the inability to travel, two little boys who were devastated by what was going on, that a work-from-home managerial corporate job is rare at best. A special rule to reduce the child support below the state minimum was even applied.

    Had I not performed the work of the "super mom" in the previous 8 years, I would've received alimony and proper support (though enforcing either is problematic). Instead, my years of experience were held against me. Needless to say, my ex benefited all the years we were married, and has even more so all the years since.

    Trade jobs? Of course not. But easy to say when you aren't counting down the last dollars of credit to keep a roof over your head and even minimal health care. Harder to say you wouldn't trade jobs when you're living behind a mask, and below the poverty line.

    And it could happen to any woman. Anyone.

  6. Stress not financial factors steered me from one career field to another. I made the transition from real estate (at the peak) to the non-profit world and took a 43% pay cut. It was a decision my husband and I made together and it required some material sacrifices on everyone's part. But looking back over the past 6 years, I know it was completely worth it.

    Which jobs should have the highest salaries? I haven't a clue.

    But I do believe that parenting is very karmic. It's the ripple effect in practical application. You get out of it exactly what you put into it. My goals and objectives for parenting are the same as my rewards. My goal is to raise two sons who become healthy, well-balanced, and productive members of society. If my husband and I succeed, then we all benefit.

    Sure, I'll come babysit for your boys just for the chance to have little kid hugs and hear baby giggles. Oh, an to TKW, 90% of motherhood involves some sort of wiping.

  7. Yes. so much to think about here, Kristen. To return to something you said at the top of your post, we can't assume everything will stay as it always has been. We do have to work at it, don't we -- to continually and increasingly love those we love and do all we can to make the family strong.

    As for who deserves the most pay? I'd say teachers, as they hold our futures in their hands.

    I chose that job because it was a nurturing profession, it was family-friendly, and I love discovering new things. Thanks for sharing your always thoughtful posts.

  8. Darn, I was pretty sure I was worth more than that $138k you threw out there. Disappointed in society yet again.

    I have to say that I am thoroughly exhausted with the thought of money and parenting in my own life. I sacrifice a daily life with my boys so that our family can have health insurance and I'm just RAW about it now. It's been so long and there hasn't been a change and it just pisses me right off that I spend 35 hours outside the home so my wee ones can go the the doctor for their flu shots and a sniffle or two.

    While there has been a lot of progress in the country with working parents' rights and a woman's choice to work or stay home, I feel in many ways that things are being to regress. Hmm. Something more to ponder but I haven't got the brain for it now.

    As always, my dear, provocative and analytical!

  9. Exactly why I must return to work this week. Without the benefit of pay for parenting we, alas, cannot survive on a single income. Some would argue, yes we can. I suppose with sacrifice we could. I choose however to provide for my children in a way that requires both parents to work outside the home. Until such time as society recognize the value of motherhood, the fact that this, above all else is the MOST important job there is, I will continue to head off Monday-Friday so that my family can live comfortably, can experience life (for sadly it costs money to go to museums, to travel to interesting places, to buy books, to learn music, to play sports, to go to university/college, most of which we choose to provide for our children).

  10. I think you're right, that we often assign importance or meaning to jobs that pay the highest. When a person doesn't make anything, though (like moms), that gets tricky. Not only do we seem to lose monetary value in society, but possibly in our own households. Often, and unfortunately, the amount of respect someone is given relates to the amount of money she makes and is not always equal what she deserves. What's wrong with our hyper-materialistic culture? And is ours the only one?

  11. There is a risk inherent in being a stay at home mom financially, and I'm not just talking about the living on one income, etc. I mean, when I get my Social Security statement each year, it never goes up. I'm entrusting my husband to take care of me, which, for a woman raised on 1970s Feminism, is very strange!

    If something happened to our marriage, likely or not, I could be up a creek without a paddle - with no income from the writing career yet and not wanting to return to the insurance career, and out of it for six years, it wouldn't be a great situation.

    Like BLW says, it's a cautionary tale.

  12. Yes, I will baby-sit your presumably adorable little boys for $0/hour!!

    I am more than a little irritated that mothers are not given more credit. We are pushed aside and labeled as "just moms." As soon as you list "homemaker" on some application, many people assume you are uneducated and a non contributing member of society.

  13. Hi Kristen,
    I love, love, love being a SAHM, but it's the hardest day every day I've ever worked. Woosh! But like I said, I love it and I would actually pay to do it. : )

  14. Putting a financial value to parenting is impossible, the value is found in other ways. I do get, from time to time, people who equate homemaker with stupidity and submissivity. In fact some go out of their way to prove their prejudice true (which oddly shows more of their flaws than my own).

    It is a frightening cautionary tale the BLW puts out there, because of the impossibility of converting my most used skills into income. If I looked to society and income level as my only source of value, it would be depressing indeed! If I was the sole provider and needed financial value while still trying to maintain motherhood, alone, I understand how frustrating that would be.

  15. oh how i relate to this wonderfully written post. a topic that we must discuss periodically because it's essential. i love my husband - let me be clear about that right off the bat. his family, however, very clearly and very loudly defines success as how big the house, how new the car, how much the bank account. so while i continue to stay at home taking care of children and elderly/dying relatives, the home, the food, and bookwork for the business (and all the other 10 things), keeping money in our pocket by drawing no salary but preventing us from having to pay a team of others to do all i do, i fight to feel worthy. don't care so much anymore what the in-laws think of me, the problem is that their position is reinforced from others and has, despite my best and ongoing efforts, become internalized. and to beat it all, my undergraduate degree is in elementary education. (switched from psychology because i thought it would help me be a better mother) in-laws didn't exactly hang my graduation picture in their hall of fame;)


Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I love hearing from you! I often reply to comments via e-mail so please make sure your e-mail address is set to "public" on your profile.