Salary.com and the $117,867 mom

Every year around Mother’s Day, Salary.com posts a calculation of what price a mom’s services would command on the open market. This year, Salary.com values a stay-at-home mom’s salary as $117,867, and a working mom’s as $71,868.

It’s always good to get people talking about what a woman’s work is worth. It’s also a good idea to show that the job description of mom is often a bundle of tasks. I maintain that there really is only one core task: nurturing children’s brains and souls. The other tasks Salary.com is throwing in (most notably, housekeeping) are good candidates for minimizing, ignoring or in some cases outsourcing.

That said, there are problems with these calculations. First, the reason SAHMs earn so much more than working moms is that Salary.com is counting much of their labor as overtime. Indeed, they have SAHMs working 54.4 hours of overtime. When I filled out the form claiming I was a New York based SAHM mom of 2 pre-school aged children, they calculated my workweek as 98.9 hours. When I filled it out as a working mom, they calculated my at-home workweek as 60.5 hours.

If you are working 60.5 hours, you’re obviously not earning as much overtime as you are at 98.9 — if you’re working in the same job. But by calculating it this way, that is, that SAHMs have one job, and working moms have 2 full-time jobs that each have more reasonable hours, you are always going to tilt the calculation toward the SAHM side. If you counted all the work an employed mom does as one block of labor, and figured that almost all the home-side work she’s doing is overtime, she’d be billing $107,802 (time and a half x the $71,868 figure). I think comparing these two numbers — $107k and $117k — is a lot more fair. [Update: the working mom figure already includes a few hours of overtime, though far less than the SAHM figure, so the comparable number is a bit lower than $107k, but not hugely lower].

More importantly, though, those 98.9-hour workweeks are just as unbelievable for most moms as they are for people who claim them in the corporate world. According to the American Time Use Survey, the average married SAHM spends 65.66 hours per week on sleep and personal care, and 15.05 hours per week watching television. Right there we’re up to 80.71 hours. There are 168 hours in a week, so when we subtract, we’re already way under the 98.9 hour mark.

Perhaps people are counting sleep, showering and watching TV as part of their workweek if the kids are in the house, and hence they feel “on,” but this is somewhat hard to defend. If I’m watching the Daily Show with my husband after my kids go to bed, I’m not working. And neither is he. As a housekeeper, day care center teacher, laundry operator, CEO, or any of the other job titles in the Salary.com survey.

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