The cost and the scarcity of day care has helped create what the sociologist Joya Misra calls “the motherhood penalty.” While women without children are closer to pay equity with men, women with children are lagging behind because they find that working doesn’t always make sense after considering the cost of child care. When women earn less than their partners, they are more likely to drop out of the work force, and if they do so for two years or more, they may not be able to get back in at anything approaching their prior job or earnings. The cost of taking care of one’s children outside the home is now so high that many women cannot be assured of both working and making a decent income after taxes and child care costs.
Professor Misra, who teaches sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has analyzed data from thousands of parents from different social classes. One study of middle-class academic parents was based on hundreds of surveys and focus group interviews and 17 one-on-one interviews. Many talked about the shock of day care costs, which can eat up 30 percent of one income in a two-salary couple, Professor Misra says.In 35 states and D.C., even the cost of center-based day care (let alone a nanny) is higher than the cost of a year of a public college. More anecdotally, day care costs for middle-class New Yorkers can easily equal from $25,000 to $30,000 per child. In New York, child care is the single greatest expense among low-income families in the city, surpassing both food and housing.
But as Joan Walsh points out on the twitter, the story screws up by viewing daycare costs as something that one must deduct from the mother’s salary in two-parent households.
Well, it’s not really the story which screws that one up, it’s us, the society, when we view the dilemma as having two solutions which are 1) a stay-at-home-mother or 2) daycare. Because these are the only visible options, the costs of daycare obviously should be compared to the mother’s potential salary.