Paying stay-at-home parents could boost birth rates, the economy and well-being

Paying stay-at-home parents could boost birth rates, the economy and well-being

  • In a country with no guaranteed paid vacations or childcare, the best option for many parents is to stay home to raise their children.
  • While they told Insider they love what they do, they also feel the work is undervalued.
  • As the population declines and Americans rethink work, it might be time to start paying parents.

When Shannon Carpenter’s daughter was 19 months old, her days went like this: she’d get up at 6:30 a.m., drop her daughter off at daycare at 7, drive to work, leave work, pick up her daughter, and come back to work. home at 6:30 pm, have dinner and go to bed.

“I felt like I was just working to pay someone else to take care of my kids,” she said.

To get out of the “rut”, Carpenter and his wife began talking about having one of their parents stay home. At first, jokingly, he said that it should be him. Then he realized the reality: it should be him. His wife’s career in advertising “was higher than mine” in state government. Therefore, for the past 15 years, Carpenter has worked as a stay-at-home mom for her three children.

“I have a job and I treat it like a job. It’s not free time for me,” Carpenter said. “Actually, I have a job description.” It’s “never-ending” work, he said, and his payoff is building a strong family unit, which he refers to as “working on memories.”

Like many of the stay-at-home parents Insider spoke to, Carpenter started her job in reaction to an economic reality. She became a career she would never give up, but her situation also reveals the cracks in the way America treats parents and children.

As a stay-at-home parent, you often face the stigma that care work is women’s work, and it’s a job that is tossed on the sidelines of the economy. Women in the US performed $1.61 trillion of unpaid care work in 2021, according to Insider’s inflation-adjusted calculations for hours of unpaid care work, assuming a federal hourly minimum wage of $ 7.25.

That reality, along with increasingly expensive and scarce child care and few federal protections for parents, could be one reason why populations around the world are declining.

“That’s one of the reasons, clearly, why birth rates are falling across the global developed capitalist world,” Kristen Ghodsee, professor and director of Russian and Eastern European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, who focuses on the lived experiences and utopias of women. she told Insider. “Because the women and the people who provide care at home and do this unpaid work ultimately say, ‘No, I’m done.'”

As workers in all industries rethink what they want from work, parents could be the last frontier. Countries are scrambling to combat population decline: Hungary, for example, canceled income tax for new moms for the rest of their lives. A municipality in Finland offers parents a ‘baby bonus’. Estonia, as the BBC reports, successfully boosted birth rates after implementing a year and a half of family leave and monthly child benefits for parents. Parents in Denmark receive child allowances.

The US briefly flirted with an expanded child tax credit, sending monthly checks direct to parents, which many of them turned around to use for childcare. But the US does not have federal paid leave or guaranteed child care. That leaves both working and stay-at-home parents to create their own economic models, and perhaps discourages some Americans from becoming parents.

“Basically, women provide this very valuable commodity, quote unquote, if you think of labor power as a good, for free, in societies where women basically do all the work necessary to reproduce labor power in the private sphere. Ghodsee, author of the forthcoming book “Everyday Utopia,” said.

Some economists, politicians, and parents have begun to ask: What would happen if we paid them?

“I’m doing all this work and people see it as, ‘oh, you’re just a stay-at-home mom.'”

Jessica Strunk, who works as a stay-at-home mom to twin girls, was two years away from graduating as a teacher when she became pregnant.

“The plan was that my meager little job on campus could cover the cost of childcare at my university,” he said. “And then we found out they were twins.”

jessica hit

Jessica Stunk.

jessica hit



Strunk estimates that he is “on shift” between eight and ten hours every day. In strict terms, that breeding work is in the service of America’s economic future. She is working to prepare her children to be happy and healthy members of society, and she makes sure that her husband has what he needs to do her job effectively.

“If I paid someone to do this, I would be paying my ass for it. So I should value myself at the same amount that I would pay someone else to do it,” Strunk said.

If she were paid a salary, she said she would be happy with around $15 an hour. For Carpenter, it would be at least $30 to $50 an hour. Salary.com’s estimate of an annual salary for a stay-at-home mom, when factoring in all the jobs they do, including chef, driver, cleaner, is $184,820. GoBanking Rates, using economists’ estimates of salaries for different roles, finds that stay-at-home moms would earn $41,504.15 a year.

The idea of ​​paying parents to increase birth rates and ensure better outcomes for those children is not new. In fact, a host of other countries have “universal child benefits.” Research has shown that direct payments to parents can increase fertility rates as well as reduce poverty and improve long-term health for both children and parents.

For Willow Tepper, quality time with her kids doesn’t feel like work, she said, but most of the rest does.

“There are so many other things that I feel like you don’t necessarily see,” he said.

Tepper, who worked as a thought leadership consultant and writer, decided to start working as a stay-at-home mom just three months before the pandemic began. She now runs an Instagram dedicated to valuing the work of parents.

willow willow

Tepper willow.

willow willow



“Something that I really didn’t expect to notice, and really didn’t realize until I became a stay-at-home dad, is the leadership skills that I had to develop,” he added. “It’s conflict resolution and negotiation, stress management, project management.”

The skills involved in raising a full-time family and the importance of the work of raising the next generation are arguably a public good and should have some form of financial support.

“In our modern American lifestyle, we have this ideal that the choice to have children, the choice to raise a family, is a very private choice,” said Ghodsee, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Because of that American framework of parenthood as a private option, there’s a belief that “there really shouldn’t be the kinds of social supports and safety nets to support this very, very valuable work that the economy and the state really need to survive.” “. – but you don’t really want to pay, because paying it would reduce profit.”

Because home-based parenting exists outside of traditional work settings, and remains unpaid, parents who do so feel underappreciated. At the beginning of her career as a housewife, Strunk struggled a lot because she felt that she was not making money.

“I’m doing all this work and people see it as, oh, you’re just a stay-at-home mom,” Strunk said. “I’m not ‘just’ anything.”

Why Parents’ Wages Probably Won’t Happen

In the seminal 1975 text “Wages Against Housework,” scholar Silvia Federici writes that making housework paid would help challenge the idea that it is intrinsic to women’s nature, rather than a job.

“Saying that we want money for housework is the first step to refusing to do it, because the demand for a salary makes our work visible,” writes Federici.

For as long as families have faced the reality of America’s lack of a safety net and the invisibility of domestic work, they have had to adapt. Michael Connelly has been working as a stay-at-home dad, and then a grandfather, since about 1986. He and his wife, a teacher, realized that his salary as a journalist would essentially only go toward childcare and taxes.

“I said, forget it. I’m going to stay home and raise our son, who then, some years later, became two, and then three, and then four,” she said. He loved it, but he wished there was at least one option other than staying home out of necessity.

Michael Connelly, his four children and his best friend in China

Michael Connelly, his four children and his best friend in China.

Michael Connelly



“The real need is for government-provided child care, because the market for more than 40 years has been unable to provide that product, which is quality, affordable child care,” Connelly said. “It just doesn’t exist in the United States.”

Without things like paid leave or universal child care, parents are left to fend for themselves. Putting a monetary value on the ways they do so would illustrate how a job that some governments subsidize is largely unpaid endeavor in the United States.

However, proposals to make paid leave universal, make childcare more affordable, or hand out monthly checks to parents have faded in the US. making children more sustainable is paying parents to do it, it could also threaten an underlying social order.

“I’m sure you’ll find a lot of congressmen who will say, ‘Paying people to stay home and take care of their kids, that’s ridiculous!’ But that’s exactly what we should be doing,” Connelly said. “It makes all kinds of sense. There are no downsides. The money it would cost the government to pay that would go back more than the economy. We’re stuck in the 1950s or something.”

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