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May 5, 2007

"Moms' work would bring in $138,095 a year": A Rebuttal That Should Be Kind of Obvious

According to "research" conducted by (just in time for Mothers' Day!), mothers' work, if compensated, would bring in $138,095 a year.

(If this story sounds familiar, it's because releases a new figure each year, which is a great way of keeping their name in the news).

Before I get started on this, can we all agree that there's something not-right about this? That this $138,095 figure is bound to provide some satisfaction to underappreciated mothers, but ... this all sounds a little wonky, right?

Good. Let's get started.

I think it would be reasonable to hypothesize that mothers who take a salary survey on on this topic may not be entirely representative of mothers as a whole. They are likely the overachievers. Perhaps some have applied their education and ambition to child-rearing in a way that adds to their workloads; at very least, they are mothers with internet access and have enough familiarity with paid workplace activities to be familiar with But even disregarding that possible skew, let's continue. From CNN:
The typical mother puts in a 92-hour work week, the company concluded, and works at least 10 jobs. In order of hours spent on them per week, these are: housekeeper, day-care center teacher, cook, computer operator, laundry machine operator, janitor, facilities manager, van driver, chief executive officer and psychologist. By figuring out the median salaries for each position, and calculating the average number of hours worked at each, the firm came up with $138,095....
Mmn-hmmn. Ten points:

1) First off, we all have to conduct Normal Life Activities. Those of us who do not have children still must wash our dishes and bandage our own cuts and scrapes. The respective hourly wages of dishwashers and nurses are wholly irrelevant. We are all uncompensated for the business of keeping life going.

2) If you do parts of each of ten jobs, you don't get paid proportional parts of the salary of each of the ten jobs. Shift managers at Starbucks perform part of the jobs of CEOs in that they manage people. Great, you're still a shift manager! If you're not qualified to do the whole job (of a CEO or a full-time "computer operator," for instance), then it's very unlikely that your salary will go up for being able to do part of the job. A worker at Barnes & Noble operates computers, but is not doing the whole job of being a "computer operator"; he or she does not receive a proportionally-higher salary during the time that he or she operates computers.

3) Let's talk about the CEO thing. CEOs create wealth for shareholders. They manage companies that have thousands or millions of employees, and head organizations with multiple levels of management. Even if you have ten kids and part of your job is to delegate to or co-manage with a spouse and possibly the hired help, your job is still more like that of a middle manager -- you know, like someone on The Office who has twelve people's activities to orchestrate. A middle manager might make $50,000 a year, as opposed to the millions made by a CEO. Why do CEOs make that much money? Because they work harder? Of course not. It's because shareholders are banking that attracting the best CEO talent will increase their own investment in the stock. This -- in any other than the most shady metaphorical sense -- is wholly irrelevant to parenting. (In fact, if millions of people were buying stock in your kids and you were then obligated by the Securities and Exchange Commission to act entirely in the interest of increasing the value of your stockholders' shares, you'd be a pretty shitty parent). So again: middle manager.

4) Middle managers (and psychologists) are generally salaried. So you can't take the amount of the salary, divide it by 40 hours a week for 52 weeks a year, figure out an hourly wage, and then multiply it back times the 92 hours a week you are actually working. The salary figure is fixed; it does not change based on hours worked. If you have a salaried job and you are asked to work too many hours, you can try to be more efficient, you can ask a superior for some kind of adjustment or assistance -- or you can quit. Notice how irrelevant this seems to the profession of mothering? (It's hard to leave for a better offer). This is wonky math.

5) Since we've done "CEO," let's talk about "psychologist." JUST BECAUSE YOU PERFORM DUTIES "LIKE" A PSYCHOLOGIST DOES NOT MAKE YOU A PSYCHOLOGIST. A million dudes who call themselves "amateur gynecologists" don't deserve $100K+ a year for that, either. Psychologists, I'm sure, are pleased that apparently their medical degrees and licenses are irrelevant. I've sometimes offered advice to a friend in need, but I don't charge, and if I did, my counsel would be worth less than that of someone who, you know, passed the MCAT.

6) Jobs are worth however much other people will actually pay you for them. Obviously. This is the first thing that probably made the report seem a little wonky at first. (Notably, the whole point of rest of is not to advocate for what people "should" be paid for their jobs, but rather to aggregate data about what they are paid). If the job of mothering is "worth" $138,095 a year, how come no one ever pays anyone that amount for it? (If such a position were to be offered, it would probably only be available to exceptionally beautiful young women -- the Melania Knauss-Trumps of the world -- which would make it a different kind of job and skew our results. But even then, a mail-order bride is cheaper and does not demand an annual salary. (See how this monetization business is getting a little insulting? Never fear, Feminist Wrap-Ups follow!)

7) People who prioritize making money make more money. Shocker! If the average salary for a receptionist is $40,000 a year, but you make $22,000 a year because you are a receptionist at an environmental nonprofit that you believe to be saving the world, then you're probably not shocked that you make less than the average. You knew that when you signed up. If making money were your top priority, you'd be a receptionist at Bear Sterns, or, better yet, not a receptionist. If you choose a path that does not provide a traditional wage, or you follow -- through intention or simply going along with things -- one of the less lucrative paths available, it doesn't mean anything to say you "deserve" some other salary.

8) Corollary to the above: If you accept a "job" working for your husband -- who very likely makes less than $138,095 a year himself -- of course you are not surprised that you make less than $138,095.

9) Let's keep going with that. It's unclear what meaning it could have to say that the wife of a man who makes, say, $60,000 a year is really doing a $138,095 job, even if no one on earth will pay her that to do it. Hmmn. Well, say we're talking about even a very appreciative husband here (the one who makes $60,000). Obviously, he can't pay her more than he even makes -- just as a "CEO" can't expect to be paid more money than a company has access to. I can't go work as "CEO" for a company with less than $1M in revenue and expect to be paid more than $1M a year, even though that's small potatoes for CEOs -- unless, of course, I can raise the small company's revenues by many millions of dollars per year, such that it becomes possible and worthwhile to compensate me in proportion to my having increased the value of the firm. How does that apply to mothering? It doesn't. Because having children is not a profit-making enterprise. To ask for CEO-type compensation for it would be to ask to be paid based on how much money you can make off the children. (And if you are one of the few Dina Lohans who makes money off the children, you're already getting your $138,095. Is that the model we're aiming towards? I think not).

10) Basic economics: jobs become worth less when more people are qualified to do them. Take "being a patent attorney" versus "delivering Chinese food in New York, on a bicycle." The second is hard, unpleasant, and extremely dangerous, and, as I understand it, often pays less than minimum wage. This is because a great many people can do it, including illegal immigrants who speak near-zero English. How many people are qualified to be patent attorneys? In America, under 100,000. How many people are qualified to be mothers? Over a hundred million. (You might argue that not all of them are good at it, which is certainly true, but only the very worst are ever removed from their positions by Social Services, so I think it's fair to count all of the mothers allowed to remain in their jobs). When more people are able to perform a certain job, the wages for that job are driven lower. Everyone who's every studied the Industrial Revolution, Taylorism, the AFL, or the Progressive Era should be familiar with this concept.

Okay, that was the ten points. Now, please keep in mind, I'm a feminist. So where do we go from here?

Feminist Wrap-Up A: Maybe instead of painting mothers as oppressed women forced into roles in which they are embarrassingly being exploited by their overlords (who pay them zero percent of their earned wages!), we should think of them as women who've chosen to do things they think are more important than making money. Perhaps women are adults who have the ability to make their own choices in a capitalist society.

Feminist Wrap-Up B: Maybe putting out feel-good reports right before Mothers' Day telling mothers that they're performing a $138,095 a year job -- when they know that no one will pay them that much money to do the job (and, like most Americans of both genders, no one will pay them that much to do any job) -- is just a little patronizing. Women are supposed to lap up blatant lying because we enjoy flattery oh-so-much? Condescending in the extreme.

Feminist Wrap-Up C: No one is performing this sort of calculus for, say, male activists who don't get paid for their labor. What if a male global-warming activist works 92 hours a week, performing parts of the jobs of CEO, marketing director, van driver, computer operator, etc.? Does anyone feel the need to calculate some kind of pseudo-salary expressing the total dollar value of his unpaid, but very important, work? Seems kind of meaningless. I think we assume that the unpaid male global warming activist doesn't need emotional shoring-up, or pretty lies. A double-standard here is patronizing and anti-feminist.


Update: This post made it to, courtesy of Megan McArdle. In the comments below the generous excerpt of my original post, one man comments that no one's proposing he receive overtime for the professions of painter, carpenter, electrician, plumber, etc.

p.s. Mom, I love you very much, but, of course, no one in our family has ever made $138,095 a year. I mean, if we were a multimillion-dollar corporation (note: maybe we should've founded a chain of discount stores: Dziu-Mart), I'd vote you a big bonus and stuff. But I think you're going to have to settle for having produced a daughter who writes blog posts like this one. If only that were its own reward. Happy Mothers' Day!

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Anonymous R said...

It's especially ironic that they put this out for Mother's Day given the holiday's origins. Mother's Day was intended to celebrate the volunteer work mothers did *outside* the home.

12:26 PM  
Anonymous Vicki Dziura said...

Dearest Daughter Jen,
I enjoyed reading your ten points,............. until I started feeling depressed. Having spent years being a stay at home mom, it would be nice if someone could put a realistic price tag on the job. I loved the feminist wrap up, as it lifted my depression.
I scrolled down further and surprise a message for me! I'm happy to have spent the time with my kids. I am confident that they will both succeed in life. They will do it one laugh, one dollar and one interesting step at a time.
Love Your Mom

8:50 PM  
Blogger JenIsFamous said...

Of course, I am happy that my mother reads my blog, but I did think it apropos to post this article I just found, from, on what to do when your mom finds your blog.

Mom, I still think you should start your own blog.


12:45 PM  
Anonymous hoverFrog said...

I was under the impression that Mother's Day originated as an annual holiday for apprentices to visit their mothers. Even the fabled wikipedia doesn't support this though and my memory fails when it comes to recalling a source of this information so I may be wrong.

Jen's mum should definitely start a blog. If you start a petition then I will be happy to sign it.

3:59 AM  
Anonymous avphibes said...

You know, I've seen other rebuttals to "how much mothers should make" articles, but I think this one is the best and most thorough that I've read so far. And you're right...a lot of it is really obvious. It always bugged me that they included occupations like teacher, nurse and psychologist with complete disregard for the fact that these are professions which require specific educational degrees and certification.

11:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"People who prioritize making money make more money."

Thanks. That line should be nailed to certain journalists forehead, maybe it could stop them writing long, completely uninteresting articles about pay gaps etc. while completely missing the point.
If it doesn't stop 'em, at least it 'll do the next best thing: causing insufferable pain to the twits.

8:33 AM  
Anonymous comatus said...

And they left out prostitute! Notwithstanding disparate housewives just won't shut up about how "quid pro quo" their estimable favors are dispensed, the survey says nothing about the putative 12 minutes a week the goal-oriented mate actually "mates." And on the distaff side of the balance sheet--what would an "average" man charge to profess lust to a sad-clown harridan parody of the girl he once loved? I mean, if you're going to be sexist, go all the way.

8:51 AM  
Blogger Erik Rader said...

Great post. These kind of ridiculous press releases just stir the pot. People just need to quit putting a monetary value on everything.

10:30 AM  
Anonymous cheeflo said...

A terrific post, Jennifer Dziura. Rational, well argued, entertaining, intelligent. I can only add this: Being a full-time wife and mother may be the price you pay for the things you want.

6:30 PM  
Anonymous triticale said...

Per your point #2, I think you were worth the salary of an economics professor at George Mason University for the time it took you to write this post.

12:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One small quibble with the logic in your point #1 (which seems to me to invalidate it): Of course we all have to deal with the daily details of keeping our invidividual lives going; but what mothers do is not only keep their own lives going - they perform the same services for all the other members of the family too: husbands, lovers and various hangers-on; and however many children they may have produced; plus perhaps elderly parents into the bargain.

4:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my counsel would be worth less than that of someone who, you know, passed the MCAT

I just wanted to note that "psychologists" are not "psychiatrists". The latter are the physicians with medical degrees. This does not change the logic of your discussion or argument at all, but you're right that psychiatrists don't like to have their medical degrees made irrelevant.

4:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"computer operator"
as if!

5:22 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

I really appreciate the fact that you, as a woman, found this patronizing. There is an adage in economics that goes something like "The Value of a Thing is the Price It will Bring."

I don't mean to imply that the work done by a mother isn't valuable, but attaching dollar figures to something so exempt from economic forces is very very arbitrary.

5:29 PM  
Anonymous ben said...

"husbands, lovers and various hangers-on"? That's quite a ... uh ... nontraditional family you've got going there.

6:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you liked this post, Digg it!

7:43 PM  
Blogger krishna said...

Since someone said a job is only worth what people are willing to pay, i guess you have to look at what people are willing to pay. Mothers don't get "paid" a salary, but nannies do, and they perform a job very similar to mothers. A qualified experienced nanny can earn up to 20/hr. If a mother does indeed work 92hrs/week, that works out to about $92,000 / year. Not 138K, but pretty high. Now thats not what a mother should get paid, but the amount of money the mother is potentially saving the family.

4:54 AM  
Blogger JenIsFamous said...

Hi Krishna,

I guarantee no one pays their nanny $20/hr for all 92 hrs! (See point above about wonky math). I'd also point out that many nannies leave their own children home (often "home" as in "in their home country") in order to care for other people's children. As in, no one will pay you to care for your own children. Just as EVERYONE considers it more desirable to care for your own children that for someone else's, the value of that job goes down.

Additionally, very few nanny positions are available. If all the mothers in America offered themselves up as nannies, the wage would immediately plummet. Thus, point #10, the more people who are qualified to do a job, the lower the pay.

(Whew! But thanks, Krishna -- doesn't it seem a little weird, actually, that "nanny" was left out of's original tally? Like maybe they thought "CEO" and "psychologist" would be more flattering).


8:30 AM  
Blogger JenIsFamous said...

Re: "psychologists" vs. "psychiatrists," I should've said "has a masters degree" rather than "passed the MCAT." But one certainly does need an advanced degree (although not medical school) to be a psychologist.

I would also add a point made by one of the bloggers who linked to this post (links below) -- she noted that, as a mom, she's doing elementary-level "psychology," not abnormal psychology. Divining the thoughts of a normal toddler isn't quite the same as playing Clarice to Hannibal Lecter ;)


8:33 AM  
Blogger krishna said...


I think the article is trying to put a monetary value on what mothers do, not actually argue that they should be paid that amount. In fact mothers get paid $0 (I never saw my mom bill my dad for her work, although I guess she should actually be billing me and my brothers:). As for supply and demand, there are a lot of mothers, but there are a lot more children.
I do think the article is a bit over the top, comparing mothers to ceo's and trained psychologist etc. but it gives an idea of what they do (managing a household, dealing with a child's problems etc.)
I do think its kind of sad that it seems the article feels a mothers worth need to be put into a dollar amount in order for society to appreciate them, however I do kind of agree. (I'm not saying that individuals don't appreciate their mothers, but society as a whole)

P.S. In this PC world, I should say the terms mother/father, mom/dad, husband/wife should all be interchangeable.

4:08 PM  
Blogger John M said...

Wonderful article. I've written a similar complaint about the logic used in these, but you've put it down very succinctly.
Excellent article, and it brings up some points I hadn't even thought of.
But there was one point about all those jobs that I didn't think was examined: in all of those jobs outside of the home, you are working to the standards of another person. If you don't meet those standards, you get fired. Who sets the standards for "stay-at-home" mother?

9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In fact mothers get paid $0


I do not agree- What about the man who supports a woman by placing a roof over her head, provides electric, phone, cable, heat and tranportation services? Should he bill in kind?

If that woman was NOT living with him (for arguments sake, assume the man dies), she will would have to pay for these services herself, live with parents or find someone else to foot the bill yes?

7:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the event of a divorce, which is quite common currently, the woman actually does get paid by the man for her services as a part-time (sometimes more, sometimes less) parent. This is especially true in the event that a mother continues to be a stay-at-home mother post-divorce. However, the man continues to need to support a household for himself - while also having the kids part of the time, too.

I doubt any judge would deem it fair to order a father to pay $138,095 in child support, even if the man made over that amount. Thus, child support rates for non-custodial parents (x2 as the father's contribution is only half of the expense) actually does present a valid societally accepted "salary" for the position of "mother."

Concerning your psychologist/psychiatrist mixup, I feel the need to clarify your clarification. A psychiatrist does indeed possess a MD as well as has a specialization in psychiatry. I believe you were close enough to that to count it as a "good enough" definition. However, the title "Psychologist" is generally reserved for a PhD level Psychology graduate (at least in my state and most). A masters-level psychology graduate is generally referred to as a Therapist or Counselor, such as a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT - masters level degree in psychology). A bachelors degree in Psychology generally grants you the title of "grunt" in some field. However, with some certifications or experience, you can become a few things with real titles, such as a Life Coach or Behavioral Specialist.

Finally, as a parent myself, I generally only utilize a basic understanding of Developmental Psychology with my child. If she were to develop further psychological problems, I would take her to someone that specializes in child psychology, other than myself.

Overall, a great article that is well thought out and precise!

4:53 PM  
Blogger Carolyn said...

Well, I'm a few weeks late posting on this (given that I'm a Mom and "blog reader" is not part of my job description.) There are so many print articles and television shows/news clips trying to pin down what it means to be a parent, and more specifically a mother, it's dizzying. I don't expect to be paid for my job as a mother any more than my husband expects to be paid for his job as a father, so I think the real issue here is not a financial one, but whether or not parenting responsibilities are being shared equally in the household (presuming the parents are not divorced, of course.) I have been the primary caregiver of my daughter for several months now, but my husband and I are about to switch roles once again, something we've done consistently throughout our daughter's 19 months of life. I feel pretty happy with the arrangement we have, and I think if more mothers were allowed the same amount of time away from their children that men typically are, calculating a salary for the job would become irrelevant.

11:49 AM  
Blogger Abbi said...

Great post! If I were a mother, my Salary would be around 25 million a year (the calculations are purely theoretical so they are also subject to my imagination).

12:56 AM  

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