Mom’s “wages” aren’t keeping up with the job market

Mothers put in dozens of unpaid hours on the job, including work as a child caregiver and a personal chauffeur. If moms were paid for that work, their annual 2018 income would reach almost $69,000. 

That’s according to an analysis from insurance website Insure.com, which calculated the pay ahead of Mother’s Day. Its estimate is based on occupational wages from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and data about how mothers spend their time. That figure would represent a wage increase of 1.9 percent, which trails the forecast for U.S. wages this year to grow by 3 percent. 

Given that inflation is currently at about 2 percent, that means mothers wouldn’t feel any increase in their wages. 

It may seem like a frivolous calculation, but it touches on an important issue in the economy: the role of unpaid labor. How it affects women and the economy is increasingly a focus of study by economists and think tanks. Consulting firm McKinsey noted that it contributes to the gender pay gap. 

“Women do so much in the household, and they are unpaid,” said Penny Gusner, consumer analyst at Insure.com. “It’s child care, making the beds, doing the dishes, driving around to school, planning parties, making the cupcakes. It’s really important to know the value of that.”

Women perform three-fourths of the world’s unpaid care, which amounts to as much as $10 trillion of output annually, McKinsey estimated in a 2015 report. 

Gusner said she’s also looking at the unpaid labor undertaken by dads for a Father’s Day study. She said the estimate is about $26,000 per year, primarily because men spend less time at unpaid tasks than women. 

Men spend more time working for pay and in leisure activities than women, researchers have found. The unpaid work women do can mean they don’t have as much time to devote to paid work as men. But if women participated in paid work outside of the home to the same extent that men did, about $28 trillion would be added to global GDP in 2025, McKinsey said. 

The labor market is increasingly rewarding some types of labor while discounting others. Jobs enjoying high pay growth are those requiring specialized skills such as computer coding. But chauffeurs have witnessed declining wages, Gusner said. Excluding that decline, mother’s wages would have increased 4.5 percent, she calculated.

The bulk of a mother’s work is spent on child care, where pay is forecast to rise 5.1 percent in 2018. Yet the pay level is fairly low: an hourly wage of $11.85 an hour. 

Here’s how Insure.com estimates a mother’s earnings would break down if she were paid for each job annually.

  • Cook (making meals): $7,935
  • Chauffeur (driving the kids): $5,300
  • Teacher/instructor (helping with homework): $8,200
  • Child care worker (taking care of kids): $24,648
  • Licensed nurse (tending to wounds): $488
  • Maids and housekeeping (cleaning up): $5,707
  • Meeting planner (arranging parties): $1,702
  • Social service specialist (summer activity planner): $9,492
  • Hairdresser (haircuts): $339
  • Personal care aide (shopping): $1,868
  • Accountant (family finances): $693
  • Grounds worker (yard work): $683
  • Interior designer (fixing up the house): $857
  • Private detective (finding out what the kids are doing): $963
  • Total: $68,875

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