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There’s a real wage gap. It’s in my home.


You may have heard that today marks  “Equal Pay Day,” the date reflecting how far into 2013 a woman must work to earn what her male peers were paid in 2012.

Lots of debate about the size and causes of this pay gap.  I won’t get into the arguments here, because there’s a much worse pay gap that we should all care more about.

I’m talking about the devaluation – actually, the non-valuation- of the domestic labor that an at-home parent (usually, though not always, a woman) provides.   Our Congress (through tax statutes), and the IRS (through regulation), regard domestic labor as something akin to a hobby:  I can’t pay myself for doing it or give it any kind of tax treatment that corresponds to its actual economic value.

When I pay someone else to clean my house, wash my clothes, cook my meals, or care for (and, especially, educate) my children, you, me, and the IRS all agree that those activities have economic value, because money changes hands.  When I do those things, they simply don’t count.  The labor isn’t a business expense because I’m not trying to make a profit.

Childless taxpayers might consider my domestic labor hobby-type leisure; after all, no one made me have children, and no one forces me to be anything more than a laissez-faire parent.  I could just as easily have taken up hang gliding, right?  Or I could just put all my kids in school and daycare, stuff them with fast food, and  go out and join the full-time paid workforce.

But there’s one crucial distinction between parenting and other “hobbies”:  If I do my job right, I’m raising taxpayers, and YOU (society, writ large) will profit.  My (hopefully college-educated, employed) kids will pay the taxes that will help sustain your Social Security, your Medicare, the economic prosperity of this country.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

There are other, arguably less socially significant “leisure” pursuits in the domestic sphere that the tax code rewards handsomely.  Chief among these is fixing up and selling houses.

Before kids, my husband and I did this a lot.  We burned up a lot of leisure time swinging hammers and wielding paint brushes.    You might have called this our hobby, because we only renovated a house if we actually lived in it – we weren’t in the business of renovation – but it was shocking how the tax code rewarded us .  You could, and still can, exclude $500,000 in profit on the sale of a house from ANY INCOME TAXES.  You heard right, NO TAXES.

That’s how much we, as a society,  value granite counter tops and refinished hardwood floors.    Why not give parenting – and home schooling –  the same treatment?  Why not let me exclude from my future taxable income the collective earnings of my children?




3 thoughts on “There’s a real wage gap. It’s in my home.

  1. I am with you, but … this…

    “Or I could just put all my kids in school and daycare, stuff them with fast food, and go out and join the full-time paid workforce.”

    It is unnecessarily inflammatory to those of us who are parents working outside the home. Some of us have to work outside the home, some of us want to. Some of us manage to do so without stuffing our children with fast food. That little phrase holds so much judgment and can cause emotion to obfuscate the message – that our home labors have value to society.

    • Touche. Upon further reflection, I agree. My flippancy is probably related to the kind of work I do: most lawyers I know who work full time are never home to eat dinner with their families, much less to cook something healthy. When I was pregnant and working in a law firm, I was told that if I wanted to continue – even on a part-time basis- I needed to have both a day nanny and a night nanny (day nannies don’t stay past 6:30 pm), so that I could be fully available without the “burden” of having to care for my own children.

  2. Yes, yes, yes. I agree with you 100%. As for having to work full time: yes, some mothers really do have to, but, sacrifices can be made for a few years by most. Trust me, I know, I come from a third world country. Personal choice, I have to say, and I can’t force anyone to do it. Still, I believe that I am raising future tax payers who will be somehow supporting current childless folks who can’t save for their own retirement. I am not asking for thank you, no, just asking to be treated equally, that is all.

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