Equal pay for equal work

By Jim Mullen

Nea Columnist

Like most people, I’m not very good at remembering jokes. But every now and then one sticks with me like a bare thigh on a hot vinyl car seat. A guy wrote to Reader’s Digest a few years ago to say that one day as he was driving his 5-year-old daughter to kindergarten, she turned to him and asked, “Dad, when did Mom come to work for us?”

I remembered the line when it was recently reported that if you had to pay a salary to a full-time, stay-at-home mom for all the different work she did – the baby-sitting, the cooking, the cleaning, the shopping, the chauffeuring, the overtime – it would cost you $134,000 a year.

Now if you are a man, especially a successful businessman, you know how ridiculous that figure is. It’s as if it’s been pulled out of thin air. For the baby-sitting alone a successful businessman would pay himself up to $5 million a year. And he’d also want the family jet to be available to him at all times, as well as the use of the family-owned condos in Paris, Rome, Martinique and Hawaii.



He wouldn’t actually do any of the baby-sitting, the cooking, the cleaning, the shopping, the chauffeuring – he’d hire a crack staff to do that, or have his people hire a crack staff – but he would actively manage the work from a cell phone while using the golf-club membership that has been paid for by the family.

When you add in the shopping, the chauffeuring, the laundry, the cleaning – we’re talking upwards of $40 or $50 million a year. Let’s get real here. A real CEO wouldn’t get out of bed for $134,000 a year – much less make one.

If we’re going to apply business principles to the home, let’s really start applying them. First of all, would a businessman hire a woman with children to take care of his kids and run his house? Of course not. He’d hire a career woman without children. That way, she wouldn’t be distracted by having to think about her own children. She wouldn’t always be asking for time off for pregnancy leave. She wouldn’t complain about the glass ceiling, she’d clean it. That’s thinking outside the box.

Businessmen know that a lot of what a stay-at-home mom does could be outsourced to places like India and Pakistan for the fraction of what mothering costs here. In some parts of India, you can get a stay-at-home mom for $800 a year – a substantial savings. And she’ll haul her own water. An untouchable soccer mom might even cost less.

A tiny fraction of the money saved on expensive, domestic stay-at-home moms could then be put toward the children’s college education, the rest of it could be funneled into the businessman’s Golden Parachute for thinking of the idea in the first place.

But who can put a price tag on a stay-at-home mom’s love and affection? On companionship and tenderness? A good lawyer, that’s who. After all, who knows more about love and affection than a lawyer?

Still, you’re not going to get love and affection from an employee, though paying them $134,000 a year couldn’t hurt. And don’t forget her paid vacation and benefits. Remember, it’s not a vacation if she still has to clean and pack and take care of the kids. That’s her day job, not a vacation.

But the question for me is: “What am I – a stay-at-home husband – worth?” If Sue gets $134,000 for staying at home, I should be worth something, say, at least half that much. Add $67,000 to $134,000, carry the one ... $201,000 a year if both of us stayed home. It’s not the $400 million that guy from Exxon got for sitting behind his desk and making a few phone calls, but it’s not chump change either.

With that kind of money, we could afford to have children.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at jim_mullen@myway.com

Copyright 2006, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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