Working & Stay-at-Home Moms
What's Your Monetary Value?

Bill Coleman
Senior VP of Compensation, Salary.com
Friday, May 5, 2006 1:00 PM

Earlier this week, Salary.com released the 2006 installment of its annual study of the estimated financial value of "mom jobs" -- that is, the work stay-at-home and working mothers perform in the home.

Bill Coleman is Salary.com's senior vice president of compensation. He was online to discuss the study and the thinking behind putting a numerical value on the day-to-day work of parenting and managing a family.

Coleman has 19 years of compensation and benefits experience in consulting and corporate management. Prior to joining Salary.com, he was a compensation consultant with Watson Wyatt Worldwide and director of marketing and manager of special compensation and benefits projects for PricewaterhouseCoopers.

For more on the worlds of work and work/life balance, visit our Jobs section or Leslie Morgan Steiner's On Balance blog.

The transcript follows below.


Bowie, Md.: If you're going to calculate salaries like this, shouldn't the working mom's other job be taken into consideration? If a mom works 40 hours a week, why aren't all of the "Mom" hours counted as overtime?

Bill Coleman: Good question.

Unfortunately, according to the Fair Labors Standards Act, overtime is job-specific. If you work two jobs, 35 hours per week each, you are not eligible for overtime, whereas one job for 70 hours would result in 30 hours of overtime


Georgetown: Why this need to put a monetary value on the work a stay at home mom does? Is raising a child not reward enough so that stay at home moms feel like they need some sort of numerical value to show the outside world how hard they work?

Bill Coleman: It's not necessary, but we've found from the moms and many of their husbands and kids, that it's nice to know that being a mom is a "real" job.


Washington, D.C.: So, if we're going to start attaching a salary to working and SAH moms, are we also going to allow for performance appraisals? Can we finally chime in about how we think some parents are horrible and their kids are brats? Can their pay be deducted or suspended for particularly bad parenting habits? I mean, if they're "earning" a salary now, it's only fair they get treated like the rest of us pulling in a paycheck.

Bill Coleman: That's a reasonable request. Unfortunately, not all moms are good moms. However, just like there's no one to write the paycheck, there's not a good source for performance reviews either (except perhaps the family).


Rockville, Md.: It's good that economists are looking at the value of work done in the home, but it's disingenuous to put a monetary value on it as if outside workers were being brought in and say "That's what it's worth." Raising your own child and taking care of your own house (cooking, cleaning, yard work) are not "jobs" in the sense they are when these tasks are done for someone else. I like taking care of my own yard even though I don't get paid; it's not a job for me because it is MY HOME. You can't compare the cost of doing it yourself with the cost of hiring someone else to do it, because emotional satisfaction is a big part of the payoff in the former.

Bill Coleman: It is absolutely not "disingenuous." It is true, however, that the reason women are stay at home moms is not for the economic rewards (obviously). But if you were to pay for it, it wouldn't be cheap.


Silver Spring, Md.: I just had my baby eight weeks ago, and it's been interesting talking with family, neighbors, and acquaintances about mothering and work. Here are some of the comments I've received:

I'm sorry you have to go back to work. (Really? I'm not. I enjoy my work!)

What were you before becoming a mother? (Um...The same person I am now?)

Staying at home with your newborn, what a life! (Yes, it's wonderful, but also isolating and boring.)

I do plan to go back to work. And right now I plan to transition from part-time to full-time. Wouldn't it be nice if my employer would encourage me to take my time figuring all this out instead of forcing me back to full-time after just 10 weeks.

Bill Coleman: Yes, it would be nice. Some employers even go so far as to conform jobs to the needs of working parents -- via flex time, telecommuting, etc.


Arizona Bay, Ariz.: Surely there are also stay-at-home dads. How come they never get much mention? Talk about lack of equality. Geez!!!

Bill Coleman: True. Dads have similar issues, albeit a slightly different average set of "jobs."


Washington, D.C.: The median income for women is less than half your "mommy salary." From an economic perspective, why should they work at all? Further, aren't you an employment site? This would seem to be telling approximately half of America not to bother with the professional world.

Bill Coleman: You're right about the magnitude of the median income for women, however the average number of hours the average working woman puts in at her job is less than 40 -- less than half the hours a stay-at-home mom logs.

Also, the mom salary is theoretical. Sure, if someone was writing checks to moms for $134,000 a year, few would go to work at other paying jobs.


Olney, Md.: Mr. Coleman, please tell me this was just a shallow attempt at Mother's Day marketing, not a declaration that mothers always do or should do these jobs, and dads and childless couples don't, shouldn't, or don't count when they do.

I've given up on Ms. Steiner, as her "On Balance" blog betrays its name every day it talks about the importance of moms to the active exclusion of dads, but I'm surprised at this approach from a major company, stereotyping men and women so starkly.

Bill Coleman: I think you've read an awful lot into the work we did. There is no comment or conclusion (other than your own) about what dads and childless couples.


Laurel, Md.: Should the per-hour figures be interpreted as a wage guide for hired domestic help?

Bill Coleman: As a reasonable guideline. You may find your local market is different from the national average. You may also need to pay for benefits or deduct for room and board.


CEO in-training: A CEO is a salaried position as such not subject to overtime. Gotta factor that out of your little pointless survey.

Furthermore, as you just stated above, working two 35 hour per week jobs does not entitle you to 40 + 30 hours overtime. Therefore I argue overtime is not valid here because none of these one "jobs" does the mom work over 40 hours at.

So the net result is mom is about up there with a BS-degree entry-level teacher. Sounds about right.

Bill Coleman: No and No.

Overtime rules apply to the overall roles and responsibilities the employee performs (all 10 roles in this case). CEO is a very small part. The vast majority of time is in non-exempt roles. Therefore the whole "job" is eligible for overtime.

One person working in 10 roles for the same "employer" is not he same as having 10 distinct jobs, although this could be a fair characterization -- it's not the one we chose.


Fort Washington, Md.: Value of Moms: I just figured out I have a 17-hour day. Up before daybreak and running ever since. No wonder exhaustion is my first, middle and last name! Who else works that hard!? Maybe the CEO of Exxon!

Bill Coleman: Nice.


Fort Washington, Md.: Second thought. Maybe people will consider how much life insurance is necessary to pay for all the work Mom does if she dies prematurely.

Bill Coleman: It would cost a surviving dad a fair amount of money to replace a mom for 90+ hours a week.


Falls Church City: To follow-up on Georgetown's question concerning the validity of monetary value: doesn't this just perpetuate a false assumption and the unfortunate materialism associated with financial compensation? This reasoning sustains the logic that a teacher is less valuable than a hedge fund manager since she deposits a significantly smaller sum of money each month.

Bill Coleman: Unfortunately I can't see the original question, but yes, there is an ongoing debate between the market value of jobs (athletes, actors and hedge fund managers are very high) and the societal value of jobs (teachers, nurses, mothers very high).


Maryland mom: I wish the "check" could have been changed to read DAD or PARENT. At the moment, my job-seeking husband is doing the vast majority of household work, from homework assistance to laundry to trying to rid the house of a mouse that moved in last month. (I would have screamed and called the exterminator.) It would have been nice to show the kids HIS value.

Bill Coleman: Perhaps for Father's Day.


Buffalo, N.Y.: I'm not a mom, but I do many, if not most, of the household duties you list as being a part of a stay-at-home mom's job description. This is in addition to my regular full-time job. Most people I know, whether they are parents or not, cook their meals, do their laundry, and clean their houses, but none of us are paid for these tasks. Your study almost makes it sound like no one does housework but stay-at-home parents!

Following your logic, to determine my economic value I should be able to take the non-childcare-related tasks in your analysis and add them to the salary I earn from my full-time job outside the home. I do this work just like stay-at-home mothers do -- only I do them after work.

Bill Coleman: And those jobs do have a value.


Alexandria, Va.: I am really puzzled by the negative reactions to this article that Leslie got on her blog and that you've gotten too.

The concept seems pretty simple to me. SAHMs do work. People get paid for doing work. How much would the work of a SAHM cost if it had to be paid for in cash? The answer: $134,000.

I can't understand how it's demeaning to be told that your contributions to your home and family, if purchased in the marketplace, would cost a lot of money. Of course, people care for their children out of love (and necessity), and the rewards they seek are not (directly) economic, but isn't it nice to be told that, heck, you're not only a great mom, but your services are really valuable?

And, for WOHMs, being told that your household contributions are not at the same level as those of a SAHM doesn't mean you're not a good mom or don't love your kid as much. It just means you're not spending as many hours doing childcare and, perhaps, there are other tasks that you're either not doing or hiring someone else to do. WOHMs should feel great about this study. They are earning whatever they earn in the workplace and STILL making contributions to their families that, if purchased in the marketplace, would cost a lot of money!

This study is good news for all moms. And it's Friday too. Be happy!

Bill Coleman: Well put.


Poconos, Pa.: Is this a joke or what? What about all the moms who work, and THEN do all the same stuff as the stay at home moms? I'm sure that 90 percent of moms would prefer to be at home and raise their children but not everyone is in that position.

If you crave recognition, play a sport, get a job, or just run around town with a banner saying "look at me, I work hard." Stay at home moms need to appreciate the situation they are in, being able to be home with their children all day.

Bill Coleman: Working moms do have a similar "mom" job value, which reflects a lot of the same roles, just fewer hours (offsetting the time in the paying job). The comparable number would be about $86,000.


Gainesville, Fla.: If we quantify and assign a monetary value for a mom's home-based work, shouldn't we do the same for dads? A dad's work at home will probably be a fraction of a mom's work, but if we want to fairly compare hour for hour, task for task what the kind of day a mom puts in versus a dad, then the dad's home-based work should be accounted for as well.

Bill Coleman: You're right, that could be done. And we'll probably look at that too. We're not saying anything disparaging about dads, we just didn't calculate those numbers.


Anonymous: The "jobs" are disingenuous and actually insulting.

Someone who does the bills for a household is not an accountant.

Someone who manages a household is not a CEO.

Trying to inflate roles makes this look like nothing more than self-aggrandizing puffery.

Rather than come up with this model, how about an empirical check. Measure what needs to be done, and then hire companies to do it, and see how much it costs. That will tell you actual values, and not this flummery.

Bill Coleman: You're welcome to run an empirical study. I think you'll find it's more expense to outsource these roles than you may think. There will, however, be a big savings in overtime if you outsource to multiple people. But don't forget to add in the cost of project management or general contractor.


Virginia: How many jobs does a mom have? Accountant, babysitter, driver, cook, etc.?

Bill Coleman: Many -- and it varies by mom.


Washington, D.C.: This survey seems to me to just be another way for society to tear down working mothers. It is biased and very upsetting. How do you respond to this?

Bill Coleman: I don't understand what you mean by "tear down working mothers" and that it's biased. We looked at working mothers too. They put in longer weeks (by two hours) than stay-at-home mothers, after adding in their paying jobs.

Biased: no.

Tearing down working mothers: no.


Washington, D.C.: Do you think most working moms are offended by this survey? If they are, can you explain how you justify paying a woman who stays home more money than most working moms make considering that working moms do all the stay-at-home moms do, plus work?

Bill Coleman: Yes working moms also do most of the same jobs, however, for fewer hours per week. We did calculate and publish that value, using the same approach. The result is just under $86,000.


Columbia, Md.: The assessment is flawed for it assumes overtime for one job, "mom", as opposed to the 10 jobs that title entails. Your first response clearly states that to be eligible for overtime you must work over 40 hours at one job. Since mom does not, she cannot earn overtime. Never mind the fact that some professionals and executives are salaried and not eligible for overtime.

I am an optical scientist professional. My job involves thinking, computer programming, machining (yes, I make my own laboratory setups and parts, if necessary), management of staff (I guess CEO of my small group) and administrative paperwork. Unfortunately I am not compensated accordingly.

Oh, and I don't get overtime.

Bill Coleman: The rules for the FLSA are not as simple as you imply. Believe it or not, there is a chance that some like might be legally non-exempt. Most white collar professionals find that offensive, but it is possible. In your case, based on some inferences from what you said, I'd actually guess you're not, but it's not perfectly obvious.


Alexandria, Va.: I'm interested in finding out if you think this study (or a similar one) has any real-world applications. For example, could you use it to determine whether it's a better idea (economically speaking) for a mother to go back to work or stay home? Could you use something that weighs a mom's at-home value against her part-time value, and compares that with a dad's, to figure out which one should stay home with the kids?

Bill Coleman: I wouldn't go too far in that direction. Certainly you can use some salary numbers to ballpark the cost of replacing mom as cook or cleaner. At the end of the day, the decision for a mother to go to work includes economic as well as other criteria. Many women work because they enjoy it. Others work because they need the money. There's also a big difference if you're kids are at home vs. in school.


Having Overtime Both Ways: If I am in an exempt position, and some of what I do as part of my job is work that, on its own, would not be exempt...

...it's still exempt.

So either having the CEO as a role makes all that work exempt (one person, multiple roles), OR, they are all different jobs and you shouldn't be seeing any overtime.

Bill Coleman: No.


Rockville, Md.: I don't really understand why people have to keep pointing out what positions they have. With the exception of kids right out of college, we all know all too well that the title does not make the man. Salary, responsibility, and autonomy in a job cannot always been seen when reading a title.

Sorry, just had to say that. I kept seeing "CEO" pop up like we were all supposed to be impressed, and it was driving me crazy! My grandmother never held a "job" in her life, but was the smartest woman I ever knew.

Bill Coleman: Touche.


Olney, Md.: "Bill Coleman: I think you've read an awful lot into the work we did. There is no comment or conclusion (other than your own) about what dads and childless couples."

No, I went to your "Mom Center" page , and it doesn't seem to acknowledge single dads, or stay-at-home dads, or dads who work outside the home but perform many or even some of these tasks. Maybe I would have approached that page differently if it had not been pointed out to me by Ms. Steiner, but still, it seems to support that these tasks are done solely by women without comment or acknowledgement that it isn't necessarily always or even often the case.

What's most surprising is that more women aren't protesting about this, since it perpetuates the myth that these are women's tasks, and allows men (and I use that word with trepidation) to feel it is acceptable to let women perform most of these tasks in their home as long as they give them flowers once a year.

Bill Coleman: You are correct, we did not mention the work dads do.

You are, however, incorrect regarding conclusions about what dads do. We looked at only mom's role. We know some dads cook and clean and some dads mow the lawn and coach sports. Dads do laundry. Yes. We know that. But mom is still doing 90 hours a week. That's what the article is about.


Washington, D.C.: Is the true hourly wage a worker should work for equal to the opportunity cost of not doing that work? So, say a stay at home mom could earn $400/hour at a high-power law firm, her hourly pay as a stay at home mom should be the same. On the other hand, if she cannot find an hourly wage above $12/hour, why could she expect to be paid more to stay at home?

The overtime thing is overblown. A stay at home mom would get the same treatment that most hourly workers get -- their job would be limited to 40 hours and they'd hire a second person to work the excess.

Bill Coleman: Jobs pay based on the work being done. A McDonald's cashier with a law degree is paid like a cashier not like a lawyer.


Chantilly, Va,: Hi, Mr. Coleman. My question is this: How come all these people are so unwilling to see the value of a stay-at-home mom? Why is everyone so upset about this? Why does it push so many buttons?

Personally, I thought our society was past putting down SAHMs who "just sit around and eat bonbons all day." Obviously, by the comments you have received I am incorrect.

That's unsettling and if I may say so, ignorant.

Bill Coleman: I agree. This appears to be an opportunity for people to push an agenda.


Gainesville, Fla.: Children are not paying for the at-home services of their parents. A parent's work at home is voluntary and not subject to record keeping or tracked by financial transaction. How can productivity for the stay at home parents be tracked? Presumably, if we're going to keep track of the numbers and include them in GDP figures, then how is it possible to treat a form of work that cannot be tracked via financial transaction in the same way that we treat other goods and services that make up GDP? Is the move toward including this type of work less about economics and more about social values that get validated by economics?

Bill Coleman: I believe the answer to your final question is "yes."


Washington, D.C.: Have you ever considered that even if a woman stays home she may not be doing all the jobs you list? For example, what if her husband drops kids off at school, cooks dinner, does the bills, etc.? And how do you know that working mothers don't do more than stay-at-home mothers? Just because someone sits in the house all day doesn't mean they are the CEO of the couch.

Bill Coleman: The numbers are based on a survey of working and stay-at-home mothers. I believe, in fact, that fathers do drop kids off, do some laundry, do some cooking. The hours we used were the hours that the MOTHER spent doing those tasks.


Annapolis, Md.: I agree, people are so vitriolic about this -- and about the On Balance blog/column. I like that you have a comparable number for WOHM moms. I think if you came up with a number for women, or men, who run the household and work outside the home, that might appease them. No one is saying their home work isn't valued -- that just wasn't your focus here, right?

I mean, to me, it's the same as when I look at hiring a housecleaner -- what is it worth to me to have someone do the stuff that I don't want to/can't don't have time to do? Is it worth $70 every other week? For me, yes. It doesn't mean I am a bad person for not cleaning my own house, it just means the finances worked out so that $70 is a better value. Same with making the stay at home or work decision.

When does the see-saw balance? Is it worth giving up my $60,000 salary to be at home? What will it cost me to keep the salary? It's all a see-saw and we are just trying to find the balance point.

People, chill out!

Thanks, by the way, for the very informative survey.

Bill Coleman: Thank you.


Washington, D.C.: Your response "if you had to bring someone in to do it, it would be expensive" misses an important part of economic analysis. Compensating differentials. It might be costly to pay someone to look after someone else's child, but there is a great deal of joy and satisfaction derived from spending time with one's own child.

To be economically valid, I don't see why you wouldn't want to subtract that from the wage you quote. English lit professors get paid less than others with a graduate degree who work 60 hours a week, but they choose to do it because they love the work. The wage differential is a reflection of how much they love the work.

Bill Coleman: You've taken my quote out of context. That was in reference to a question about outsourcing. That said, yes, one could apply an adjustment for "love" of work, but many people get paid orders of magnitude more than English lit professors and they love their work too.


Annapolis, Md.: Can you speak to the way that stay-at-home moms are valued in Europe? If I am not mistaken in some countries they receive Social Security, etc.

Bill Coleman: I'm sorry, I believe you may be right, but I don't know enough about European social programs to comment on that.


Rockville, Md.: $134,121 for a stay-at-home mom? I'd say that was a fair estimate.

A few weeks my stay-at-home wife had to go out of town for two days and I was alone with our six-month old boy.

I found the amount of physical and mental work that goes into properly caring for a child all day was STAGGERING. After two days I was exhausted.

I honestly feel that if she put our son in day care and started a full-time job, she would have a MUCH LIGHTER overall daily workload (but our son would be receiving vastly inferior care).

Women who CHOOSE -- and I'm not referring to those who MUST work so their families can make ends meet -- aren't always the "heroes" that we often call working mothers.

The true heroes are the ones at home with the kids, who perform more daily work than 99.9% of working moms while giving their children the best care in the world.

Bill Coleman: Interesting perspective. Thanks.


Bill Coleman: Thanks for inviting us today. For those who are interested, please feel free to visit http://mom.salary.com/ to create your own mom calculations.


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