There’s an important New York Times article that all women should read whether they have young children at home or not: “The Costs of Motherhood are Rising, and Catching Woman Off Guard”. We all have daughters, nieces or friends who struggle to mesh family and professional roles—and this is an article we should all talk about and put in the right context.
In many ways this article underscores the age-old work vs. motherhood debate, but it moves away from finger-pointing and moral judgments and focuses instead on the more critical and relevant financial costs.
As you will read, the article points out that motherhood has indeed become an extreme sport. We spend much more time with and money on our children than our parents did. Mothers who veer toward competitive micro-management of a long list of sports, academic and enrichment activities say they don’t have time to work. Then there’s the high cost of childcare that causes many women to conclude that it’s less expensive to stay home.
But the article fails to calculate that the cost of motherhood is actually quite a bit less than the cost of staying out of the workforce. Every year out of the workforce a woman forfeits up to 4 times her salary. A powerful example is the cost of full-time childcare versus the cost of a workforce hiatus. The Center for American Progress runs some eye-opening numbers with their interactive childcare costs calculator.
Using the example of a 30-year-old woman who earns $50,000 annually, the tool illustrates leaving the workforce for three years would cost her:
- $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.
As a mother I fully support the fact that with two big caregiving roles (children and aging parents) most women aren’t looking for hammers to break the glass ceiling. Even most highly educated women don’t care if they ever reach the C-Suite. But fully leaving the workforce for any length of time is a financially perilous decision that women too often regret after they are hit with one or more life “you never knows”. The children who today probably do not truly need 24/7 oversight for STEM classes, screen time rules, college prep, etc. could be the same children even today’s “affluent” women may need to turn to if they run out of money late in life.
The answer is professional, lucrative flexible work that fits and funds life. Mothers can take comfort in the fact that today there are many more options than the tied-to-your-desk, more-than-full-time corporate grind and that employers of every shape and size are increasingly embracing more life-friendly work structures.
How to find and ask for the six different kinds of flexible work—as well as all the financial reasons it makes sense to always find the work that fits your life—is the focus of my book, Ambition Redefined: Why the Corner Office Doesn’t Work for Every Woman & What to Do Instead and order here.