How Much Is A Mother's Work Really Worth?

Last Updated May 9, 2011 10:06 AM EDT

Every Mother's Day, Salary.com produces a survey claiming that the average mom's services would command some huge sum on the market. This year's number? $115,431 for stay-at-home moms. Working mothers would get $63,471.
There are a few problems with this statistic, however. For starters, most working mothers do not spend more than $50,000 replacing their services while they are on the job, which is what the difference between these two figures suggests.

But beyond that, Salary.com's survey is based on mothers' estimation of how much time they spend on certain tasks. And the reality, as time use researchers well know, is that people lie. A lot.

For instance, according to Salary.com, the average stay-at-home mom spends:

  • 6.6 hours per week doing laundry,
  • 7.8 doing janitorial services and
  • 15.4 hours per week doing housekeeping.
That adds up to 29.8 hours on household activities. Then she also spends 14.1 hours cooking (and doing other chef-related tasks). That certainly sounds like a lot, adding up to nearly 44 hours of labor before we even get to playing with kids and driving them around.

Why These Numbers Are Bogus
But if you look at the American Time Use Survey, conducted annually by the Bureau of Labor Statistics based on time diaries rather than estimates, you'll see these numbers are off.

According to the BLS, married moms who are not in the workforce, and have kids under age 6, spend 1.61 hours per day on housework and 0.11 on lawn and garden care (so 1.72 hours per day on housekeeping). They spend 1.41 hours on food prep and 0.20 on grocery shopping (1.61 on food chores). If you multiply all these by 7, you'd get a weekly total of :

  • 12.04 on housework and
  • 11.27 on grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning up after meals.
Is this a lot of hours? Sure. But it's just north of 23, not 44.

I understand why Salary.com wants as high a number as possible. Mother's Day is supposed to be about recognizing how hard moms work. And we do. But making it sound harder and more laborious than it is makes people think that it's impossible to combine motherhood with a career and a personal life -- because when will those 29.8 hours of housekeeping get done? There are better ways to honor mothers than making it sound like a job for martyrs.

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Photo courtesy flickr user, financialfellow1