If you actually believe a SAHM is worth $114k, feminism has jumped the shark


sahm salary feminism

There is a moment in every social movement when it swings too far in the opposite direction. When we arbitrarily put a $113,568 price tag on the work of a stay-at-home mother — and the general public blindly accepts that as so — feminism has gone too far. Far, far too far.

One of the past century’s greatest successes is winning the argument that women’s work is indeed work: that caring for children and a home is unbillable labor. I give thanks every day to my feminist foremothers for waging — and largely winning — that battle that has given rise to affordable childcare programs for the poor and a surge in work-life benefits from corporations in my lifetime alone.

Yet I have cringed each and every of the past several years when the annual version of the above survey from Salary.com is published, putting an absurdly high and arbitrary value on the work of a stay-at-home mom in the six-figure range. Let’s break down those nutty figures:

-The only services on this list that seem reasonable to me are the child care and housekeeper/janitor — but even those are highly circumspect. No business has a cleaning service AND a janitor. That is redundant. So we will reduce that to the housekeeper alone for $145. But even that seems high. In New York City where I live, my very hardworking housecleaner Sandra comes weekly, scrubs my 1,300 square-foot two bedroom, two-bathroom apartment, changes linens and does all the laundry for $100 weekly. This chart adds an additional $61.69 for laundry. When I sent my laundry out to a service that picked it up and dropped it off, I only paid about $30 weekly — again, in the most expensive city in the country.

-The Salary.com folks want us to believe that any woman who chooses to stay at home with her kids is entitled to a check of $341 for facilities management plus $180 weekly to be the “CEO” of her home. Marketers came up with the cute notion that moms are the chief executives of the family, and I get why that resonates. But no effective CEO would ever abandon paying work and career momentum. That is financial suicide for an organization, as I detailed here. Plus, just because you make decisions does not mean you make good decisions — as studies find huge percentages of American families live beyond their means. Further, if you do not have the education or experienced to be hired as a CEO, you are not entitled to CEO pay. But since you are apparently a business executive I don’t have to tell you that a service is only worth what the market will pay.

-Psychologist. See above. No degree or experience, no salary.

-Computer operator at $141 per week. Who even knows what a “computer operator” is? Has that job title existed since the Apple II in 1983? And what are moms doing on the computer for nearly 9 hours weekly if she doesn’t have a real job? Facebook, Pineterest and Twitter, that’s what. I’m not paying you to be on social media when you’re on the clock.

The big slap to working moms — and the vast majority of Americans mothers actually have jobs outside the home — is that we do nearly all of the things on this list. Because that is being a parent. I spend about $1,500 monthly, or $18,000 annually, on housekeeping and child care. The rest I do myself: make “executive” decisions, manage this facility, stalk social media, hug and talk to my kids, drive everyone around and cook nearly everything we eat. On one hand, it is thought-provoking to put a price tag on these tasks, but as my analysis points out, it grossly over-estimates the actual market value of these services, which are indeed predominately carried out by women. When we tout ridiculous claims in the name of advancing women, we instead ridicule an entire gender and undermine the very movement that empowered us to expect respect for these tasks in the first place.

But if you insist on enumerating every waking moment of your stay-at-home existence, I want to jump on board. Please calculate 5 hours monthly for my services as a pediatrician for diagnosing scraped knees as not in need of stitches and sore throats not requiring penicillin. Please tell me how much society owes me for my duties as dental hygienist for overseeing teeth brushing twice daily, that of a home care nurse for wiping poopy butts and cosmetology wages for clipping little nails. And while you’re at it, how much does it cost to purchase and operate an iron lung, because I am breathing 24 hours per day 365 days per year, and I really feel I ought to be compensated accordingly.


Emma Johnson is a veteran money writer, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, REAL SIMPLE, Parenting, USA Today and others.

The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (Penguin, 2017), was a #1 bestseller and was featured in hundreds of media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, Oprah.com and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.

Her popular blog Wealthysinglemommy.com, and podcast Like a Mother, explore issues facing professional single moms: business and career, money, sex, relationships and parenting. Emma regularly comments on these topics for outlets such as CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Doctors, and many more. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” one of “20 Personal Finance Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by AOL DailyFinance, “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and “Most Eligible New Yorkers” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker on gender equality, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality.

Emma grew up in Sycamore, Ill., and lives in New York City with her children.

20 thoughts on “If you actually believe a SAHM is worth $114k, feminism has jumped the shark

  1. I agree with you: the figures are nutty. And that may be keeping the American public from realizing and embracing an important truth: Parents are providing economically valuable services. If I, as a mother, keep my kids healthy and educate them (“get them ready for school”), I am keeping down the cost of their later education. The school won’t have to spend extra money on remedial services because my kids come ready to learn — there’s value in that, but it’s invisible. If I, as a mother, parent in such a way that my kids are well-socialized, have good social skills and know how to work and persevere, I save society and schools money b/c my kids may not end up in prison or unemployed. If I, as a mother, breastfeed my kids for a year and that decreases the number of times they get sick, I save the medical system money both now and later (as breastfeeding has been proven to decrease the risk of all kinds of diseases.)

    Parenting has worth. Parenting is a positive contribution to the economy. But stay-at-home parents are still penalized for their choices; they get no social security credits for the years they spend contributing, uncompensated, to the economy.

    Forget the annual Stay-at-Home-Parents survey, and start crediting caregivers for their service to the economy instead.

  2. Thanks for all these awesome points, Jennifer. I agree with most of it. But we part ways when the SAH parent is entitled to credits / pay for their services — I simply do not believe that a fulltime parent for anything but an infant contributes more than most working parents. You and I breastfed babies who are great, well-socialized kids and will be valuable members of society — do we do less of a job because we are not with the kids every moment they are not in school? Nope. What about the SAHP who is a crappy parent and raises miscreants?

    All this false value placed on the SAHP comes from recent, romanticized memories of the housewife — two and three generations ago when women were breaking their backs right alongside the men on farms. The economy has changed, technology has changed and maintaining a house and caring for children simply does not warrant one person’s fulltime attention. Sure, you can fill those hours with plenty of activities. I could raise my family’s food in a garden, make all our clothes, can our produce, raise a few cows and butcher the meat for personal use. But because all of that is far, far more efficient to outsource, those activities would be considered hobbies.

    As I outlined, there are only a few tasks that I actually outsource on that list that supposedly occupies a fulltime SAHM for 94 hours weekly. I pay less than $20,000 annually to outsource them and still spend tons of time with my kids — all while sharing custody with an exhusband!

  3. You have a keen perspective on this. We make our choices, both volunteer and remunerated. If I volunteer to help out at the local food pantry and then start a public campaign to tout my calculated value, then have I done this from the heart? Or am I resenting the work I do…seeking recognition?

    SAHMs…we do appreciate what you do!

    Okay, that being said, I feel that people who do a lot…do a lot regardless of how much we get paid. My working mom buddies and I seem to have an endless supply of energy and somehow get all the work around the house completed as well as the work for which we get paid. No, we can’t stay home with our children, but they don’t seem to suffer from this and perhaps there is benefit, particularly for our girls. They have a working mom as a role model. You can’t teach that or read it in a book
    Anyway, it’s all about how you manage your time and energy, and we seem to have that down to a finely honed skill…and still get asked to do more! If I added it all up, put titles to my duties, plus tossed in my wages, that figure could look like the salaries of some oil and gas CEOs!

    Thanks Emma. Always look forward to reading your line!

  4. Thanks Barbara for the compliments, but even more for saying what both sides secretly think: Both working and SAH moms feel they do more than the other. But as I say in my comment above, there is not a whole lot that professional SAHMs do that can be affordably outsourced.

    And once again, it doesn’t have to be black and white. Let’s say you are a psychologist who can freelance for 10 hours per week at $38/hour — earning $380 weekly, maintaining your professional skills, setting a good role model for your kids, engage with other professionals, feel great about exercising your intellect, contribute to the family financially, being an evolved adult your professional husband enjoys chatting with and maintaining a financial lifeboat in the event of crisis — then outsource housecleaning for just $50 per week. That is win-win-win-win-win-win x 1,000!

  5. And Dr. Barbara – when you said you believe that professional moms set good examples for their daughters (and I assume you mean sons, too!) I thought of this viral post about why a woman regretted being a SAHM: http://huff.to/1musV7O Her points include:

    -I slipped into a more traditional marriage.
    -My kids think I did nothing.

    … both to your point.

  6. This is hurtful to read. I admire working moms so much, and always talk about them with respect. My husband works LONG hours for a job in a rural community, financially it is what works for us right now for me to be at home. I study online and have plans to go to work when my babies are older. It may not be perfect,and I may not make as much money as I did at my peak,but it will have to do. You you to consider the lost wages and I put value on being the one to comfort and love them in this precious time of life. I don’t think I do more then working moms. There are days where I wish I was one of them! I don’t understand why you use your blog to attack and hurt women. We should all be on the same side. Ok, I am worth $18000 a year. You win.

  7. When you are not around…someone else, who you pay…which is fine. Thanks for the math lesson. I needed to be told that I don’t make the 80 000 I once did. I barely am worth as much as someone who works minimum wage. I respect a lot of your advice. I just find these posts to be unnessacaily mean spirited. Kudos to you and your family as well.

  8. I’m still stumbling over your housekeeper’s wage. Do you mind if I ask how long it takes it to do the work? (New here. Just stumbled upon you via Daily Worth.)

  9. I have been a SAHM, a part time working mom, and now a single mom who’s ex lives out of state while working a flexible job to support my 3 kids 5 years old and under. Here is the deal…it’s all hard. BUT…I had more free time when I stayed at home. Yep…I did. Especially when they took 2 naps a day. Did I clean and do things during their naps, yep. but I also had more free time. Was it harder than working? Both has challenges, both are work!!

    Yes, I come home to a clean house, because my kids were at school. Then guess what happens…they mess it up. So, just as when I was a SAHM, I clean up after the meal I cooked, then I sing the stupid Yo Gabba song and try to get a 5 and 3 year old to focus on cleaning up their toys. I am grateful for my time home. While I was still married and the part time situation fell in my lap, I was torn. I was so happy I did it! Then 2 years later after finding out my wonderful ex had a married woman banging problem, I was lucky to still have a way to support my kids…since I also found out I was preggo at my clear STD test. Good news, you don’t have the herpe, but your pregnant!!

    The above number is stupid inflated. I do it all and work. But, I just started reading your blog…man do I need to outsource the laundry!!

  10. @Marissa — you win for best comment!!!

    “Then 2 years later after finding out my wonderful ex had a married woman banging problem, I was lucky to still have a way to support my kids…since I also found out I was preggo at my clear STD test. Good news, you don’t have the herpes, but your pregnant!! ”

    Now get on that laundry service and report back. Thanks so much for chiming in here. Hang tough.

  11. You seem to have gone through some very hard life situations. I’m glad you found a way to support your family and keep moving forward. However, thinking that you “do it all” is a little much. You outsource what tasks you have deemed not worth your time, including your children.

    I have four children under the age of 8, a home that is 6 times the size of yours (I mention this only because your cleaning/laundry estimation actually made me laugh out loud! I spend at least 3 hours a day on those tasks.) and a husband who works long hours in our small business. My teacher salary would never have covered the amount of money that I save our family by caring for my children and home.

    I would suggest that you take a step back and just appreciate that every woman has to do what is best for their own family. It isn’t necessary to belittle anyone’s choice.

  12. Whoa, Meg! You take me to task for “belittling” others’ choices, but start your screed by acknowledging I have “have gone through some very hard life situations” — condescendingly suggesting that only a life of hard knocks would lead to the unseemly life of a working mom. Then you go on to say that I outsource my children because I deem them “not worth my time” Um, how do you suggest I support them if I don’t pay for child care in my down-and-out situation?!!

    Moreover, anyone who wants me to buy into an economic model that requires them to save money by cleaning their own home for three hours daily to finance a 7,000 square-foot home renders you in a level of wealth unfamiliar to 99.99999 percent of the world’s population. So you are hardly in any position to lecture others about how to best balance most women’s need to work and care for their children.

  13. I have to jump in to make a comment even though I’m a little behind the buzz. I had a friend share this survey on Facebook and as a stay-at-home dad I found something that really perturbed me. I often have a “what about the dad’s?” attitude when reading stuff like this – it tends to put me on the defensive because stay-at-home dads are often forgotten or put on a level below the mothers. I set it aside when reading through the survey, however I saw a link at the end to go to the dad’s survey. Okay, lets go. Then I discovered they listed half the jobs they did on the mom’s survey and rated a “typical” stay-at-home dad at 55 hours per week total (compared to the “typical” mother’s 94). I stewed on the many many reasons this annoyed me and came across your blog while reading other thoughts on the survey.

    You nail one of the points perfectly, but you completely missed the aspect of the dads. I’d like to know where they get their source for this. Are the mothers over exaggerating their value while the dads are more reasonable? Does Salary.com feel men don’t deserve the same amount of respect (“pay”) as the women? Do they generally feel that the stay-at-home dads work less than the stay-at-home mothers?

    Sure, the survey is fun. It isn’t intended to be a bargaining tool to use against your working spouse to demand an allowance. Having a working wife that supports our family, I support empowering women and equality among the sexes, but I agree about your views on feminism going to far sometimes and this is a perfect example. Knighting stay-at-home mothers needs to stop. It is an important job and a lot of work, but it is far from under-appreciated and much too sensationalized for being “world’s toughest job”.

    1. Todd, thanks so much for weighing in … in all honestly I completely missed that link to the dad’s figure — future post, perhaps!! You make an interesting observation: “Are the mothers over exaggerating their value while the dads are more reasonable?” I will investigate. Stay tuned.

      And you took the words out of my mouth: ‘Knighting stay-at-home mothers needs to stop. It is an important job and a lot of work, but it is far from under-appreciated and much too sensationalized for being “world’s toughest job”.’

      You comments are not clear – curious, are you a SAHD?

  14. Thanks for calling out these silly numbers.

    In my current relationship we both work but when it comes to the home I tend to do the hardware-related repairs, lawn work and work on the cars. She tends to do more of the cooking, cleaning, and so on. In that sense it’s fairly traditional, though there’s a lot of overlap.

    However, both of us would laugh at the notion that I could “bill” or should be valued at the billable rate of a carpenter or mechanic for what I do around the house. And it would be ridiculous that she should “bill” as a Chef, CEO, Seamstress or any other number of things she does. If our skills were truly that valuable I’d be selling them and pocketing the money, and paying someone else to do all the work around the house.

    Further, in our career jobs, we’re often required to play coworker psychologist, event coordinator, crisis manager, and I can’t count how many times I’ve had to babysit the CEO. Heck, I had to do most of that when I was waiting tables as a teenager.

    The effort some people expend to prove to others and themselves how under-appreciated and underpaid they are, as opposed to simply making different choices or choosing to ignore what other people think, reminds me of the Shakespeare line “thou doth protest too much”.

    1. >>The effort some people expend to prove to others and themselves how under-appreciated and underpaid they are, as opposed to simply making different choices or choosing to ignore what other people think, reminds me of the Shakespeare line “thou doth protest too much”.


      Also, my all-time #1 fav quote from Margaret Thatcher: “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to say you are, you’re not.”

  15. These kinds of ideas really make me wonder if people are not taught anything about how capitalism works. Money only gets involved in a service when that service benefits someone else. It’s that simple. You will never ever get paid to do something that benefits only you or your family.

  16. “Unless things change, girls today will spend hundreds of thousands more hours than boys doing unpaid work simply because society assumes it’s their responsibility,” According to the OECD and other sources, women devote more time than men to chores in nearly every country. American women spend more than two hours daily on chores, compared to just 82 minutes for men. Even in Finland, a country that seems more progressive on gender issues, women sweep, scrub, and change diapers for 137 minutes daily, and men do for just 91.
    “It ends up robbing women of their potential,” Gates said in an interview. “This is a societal issue that in 2016 shouldn’t exist anymore.”

    According to (Melinda) Gates, “globally, women spend an average of 4.5 hours a day on unpaid work. Men spend less than half that much time.” The unpaid labor gap is especially large in poor countries. “In India, to take one example, women spend about six hours, and men spend less than one hour,” she writes.
    And when women are too busy cleaning and cooking, they have less time for paid work. Girls in many countries fall behind in school because they’re swamped with tedious chores. Gates writes that reducing women’s unpaid labor from five hours per day to three can increase a country’s female labor-force participation rate by 10 percent. If women participated in the economy at the same levels as men, she writes, global GDP could increase by 12 percent.https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/02/the-scourge-of-the-female-time-crunch/470379/

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