Every year, Salary.com comes out with a new survey that purports to show what a mother’s time is worth. Getting lots of attention for the survey involves making sure it is a huge number. And so, this year is no different. After asking thousands of women how much time they devote to different tasks, Salary.com claims that a fair paycheck would be $115,431 for stay-at-home moms, and working mothers would get $63,471 for their mom-related duties.
But there are several problems with this statistic. For starters, the vast majority of working mothers do not spend anywhere close to $52,000 replacing their services while they are at work.
But beyond that, it turns out that mothers, just like everyone else, exaggerate how much we work. The Salary.com survey claims that stay-at-home mothers have a 97-hour workweek. Broken down, this includes estimations like 6.6 hours per week doing laundry, 7.8 doing janitorial services and, 15.4 hours per week doing housekeeping, and 14.1 on cooking (and doing other chef-related tasks). That’s 44 hours before we even get to the kids. But if you look at the American Time Use Survey, which relies on time diaries rather than estimates, you’ll see that similar categories (housekeeping, lawn & garden care, food prep and clean-up and grocery shopping) added up only give you about 23 hours a week.
This is obviously a lot of work. But it’s not 44 hours. I’m sure the working mother estimations are way too high too — both on chores and time spent with children. It’s human nature to overestimate chores and workweeks in general, as a way to show just how hard working we are. Executives do this with their “80-hour workweeks” just as people do it with chores.
So what? Well, the issue is that such high numbers make it sound like motherhood is only a job for martyrs. It’s impossible to build a career and be a mom and have a personal life because when will those 44 hours of housekeeping tasks get done? Time diaries paint a very different picture of American life, but one that shows that most of us can do what matters to us. I definitely prefer this picture, even if it would give me a smaller “paycheck.”