9 Lives for Women Blog

Do the Right Math: Cost of Childcare vs. Staying Home | March 21st, 2019

You may be right in the thick of raising young children or your adult children may be long out of the house. But even if potty-training, playdates and homework are a distant memory, we all know women who are struggling to blend work and life. It may be your daughters, nieces, friends or colleagues—in every corner of your life there are women thinking about leaving the workforce to care for children full-time.

The reality is that young women leave the workforce to care for children—just as their mothers did—despite the fact that they often saw mothers blindsided by divorce, a husband’s job loss or many other life you never knows. Even more surprising is that the UBS “Own Your Worth” study notes that millennial women are in the demographic group most likely to delegate their own financial security to a spouse. 

These facts call for a return to basic math. Women who are not in huge leadership positions attached to enormous salaries often say that it’s just not “worth it” to work after the childcare bill takes a big chunk out of their pay. This is shortsighted thinking: the value of working vs. staying home really needs to be considered over the long term.

By leaving the workforce and eliminating the childcare cost, a woman is not saving money.

I urge all women with one foot on the career off-ramp to visit the Center for American Progress website and use their very eye-opening childcare cost calculator. Here’s their startling math:

A 30-year-old woman earning 50,000 a year leaves the workforce for three years. In that three-year period she gives up:

  • $150,000 in lost income,
  • $140,000 in lost wage growth, and
  • $125,000 in lost retirement assets and benefits over her career lifespan.

That total $415,000 loss would be even greater for women who have higher salaries and/or who stay out of the workforce for many more years. Compare just the three-year $415,000 loss to the average cost of full-time daycare for five preschool years ($54,860) or the average cost of a full-time, in-home au pair ($95,420) for the same five preschool years.

This was the topic of my Advice to My Younger Me podcast interview, where you can hear more about why it always makes sense to stay in the workforce. Today that doesn’t have to mean a traditional full-time job that requires well over a 40-hour commitment, a long commute, overnight travel and never seeing your kids. Today there are six different kinds of flexwork that make just about any work scenario possible, including working only during school hours, taking the summer off to be with your kids and building a consulting practice where you—and only you—are the boss.

Learn more about the many different flexwork options women have today in my book, Ambition Redefined: Why the Corner Office Doesn’t Work for Every Woman & What to Do Instead. You can also learn about flexwork trends and opportunities in my newsletter: sign up here and you’ll receive my free guide, “6 Flexible Work Options: Which One is Right for You?”


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