stay at home mums

Today, I have a guest post on the real reason that a stay at home mum apparently doesn’t contribute to economic growth. It’s a cracker of a piece by the awesome Rebecca Bowyer who blogs at The Lighter Side of Parenting and maintains History of Parenting– which is a great place to spend some time and find out all about how previous generations raised their kids. Anyway, over to Bec!



stay at home mum

Janice (not a real person, but bear with me) is a stay at home mum. She has two kids, aged 3 and 8 months. She works 16 hour days caring for them and running a household while her husband goes out and earns money.

Next year Janice will return to her job as an accounts manager. She’ll earn $36,000 for working three days a week. She’ll spend $600 a week on childcare and $70 per fortnight on a cleaning service to help her keep up with the housework. Every Friday she’ll spend $30 on takeaway for the family because nobody’s had time to cook.

Next year Janice will contribute $70,850 to Australia’s economic growth, including the services she provides and the ones she pays for.

This year she contributes nothing, even though she provides an in-home childcare and domestic management service virtually 24/7.

Why is that?

It’s actually fairly simple: Janice doesn’t contribute to economic growth this year because domestic housework and childcare are not counted as part of Australia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Ok, you can get your fingers out of your ears now (yes, I can hear you going ‘LA-LA-LA-I-CAN’T-HEAR-YOU-WTF-IS-GDP’). It’s really not that scary.

GDP is what the politicians are referring to when they get all emotional about our need to drive economic growth to maintain living standards. GDP is the number they’re trying to increase when they talk about encouraging women to enter the paid workforce in an attempt to drive economic growth.

But what is it? GDP is basically ‘the total market value of all goods and services produced within Australia in a given period of time.’

Going back to our fictional but totally real SAHM above, Janice contributes to GDP when she:

  • pays for childcare for her kids
  • pays for a cleaning service for her house
  • buys takeaway from the local fish and chips shop
  • provides an accounts management service to local business.

But here’s the catch: housework and childcare are counted in GDP only if you pay somebody else to do it. So you can raise four kids in a house by yourself and be seen as contributing nothing to the economy. OR you can pay, say a family daycare centre to look after your four kids – in an environment exactly the same as your house – and it’ll contribute to economic growth.

Crazy, huh?

Oh, but it makes sense when you think about it, right? I mean, no money changes hands when you stay home with your own kids. So it shouldn’t be counted.

Uh-huh. But on the other hand, the house you live in contributes to the economy simply by being there. It’s one of the few quirky things that are counted in GDP even though no money has changed hands. The bean counters figure out ‘a value for owner-occupied housing by using the cost of rental housing that has comparable space and amenities to owned housing.’

Huh? Ok, try this: you live in a three bedroom house in Camberwell in leafy Melbourne (lucky you, nice suburb). You own it (what, you won the lottery?). The GDP bean counters figure if you rented it out you’d get about $400 a week for it (yeah, ok, so it’s a bargain – you haven’t been looking after it). So they write down that your house, that sits there and does nothing, contributes about $20,000 a year to GDP.

But all that work you do inside the house? The blood, sweat and tears raising the next generation of taxpayers? Nada. Zilch. Zero. You’re just a drag on economic growth.

So why isn’t parenting counted as a service in GDP?

Given that we know a stable and enriched early childhood contributes substantially to creating well-adjusted, productive adults, shouldn’t the services parents provide be counted as an economic contribution?

Well it would seem that there’s not necessarily any ideological opposition to it. According to the United State’s Bureau of Economic Analysis: “There has been virtually no conceptual disagreement with the inclusion… It adds to our production,” Mr Landefeld says. “But the problem is that it’s terribly difficult to measure, and we simply don’t have the instruments to do so.”

stay at home mum

Oh, I see. It’s just too hard. Diddums.

Well, good news, guys. Steven Nelms recently did the hard work for you. He calculated that his wife, a stay at home mum, should earn a wage of around $73,960 (USD), based on market rates. If he can do it, I’m sure you can figure out a way to crunch the numbers too.

The truth is that parenting and housework are not included in the GDP because a decision has been made not to. It’s that simple.

Deciding what we put a price on, and what we don’t, as a society, is fairly arbitrary at best.

For example, we’ve somehow decided that the price of a kilogram of a pretty sparkly golden-coloured metal is around $48,000. When it comes down to it, it won’t help you much if you find yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere with nothing to eat.

And yet the price of a kilogram of a bananas, which are much more useful in everyday life, is just a few dollars (unless you lived through the Great Australian Banana Drought of 2011 when they rocketed up to $25.00kg).

Including housework and child rearing in GDP might not change the day-to-day economic reality of households, but it would raise the value of ‘women’s work’ in the political domain.

It also might make governments a bit more chillaxed about trying to kick women out the door to go and get a ‘real job’ to drive this mystical magical economic growth figure.




You can also check out The Lighter Side of Parenting on Facebook!


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  • Huh!
    Interesting …

  • LydiaCLee

    Great post. I find it interesting that they are focusing on the little guy chipping in rather than the big corporations paying their share…pretty odd?

  • TeganMC

    It’s crazy! I remember a couple of years ago in a mums group I was in on Facebook a woman was having issues with her husband and his belief that she contributed nothing to the household as a stay at home mum. So she rang around local child care centres, cleaning services etc and compiled quotes for the services she did. She then told him she wouldn’t be doing anything from now on and he’d have to pay for everything she did in the home. It didn’t take him long to come around once he saw the figures!

    • Ha ha, good on her! We seem so focused on $$ being the only way to measure value we may as well measure our value as parents as well!

    • She’s awesome- a woman who knows her worth and then some!

  • Great post Rebecca…always knew SAHMs did a lot of work {I saw my own mum do it} but never really seen it quantified.

  • Oh so true! I have been at home raising kids for 15 years now. I work my butt off and have sacrificed an income and my superannuation to do so. I feel proud to be an at home Mum but I am definitely undervalued by society. I worry about my old-age future with no super behind me. Sadly, we’ve again been overlooked in this budget but once more, encouraged to march out the door in an effort to contribute to the ‘real work force.’ Crap!

  • very cool post, thank you for educating me further! I know that it is going to be a hard decision when we weigh up whether I stay at home, husband stays at home, neither of us do….so many factors to consider!

  • Lucy @ Bake Play Smile

    Wow! This is certainly a very interesting read (and made me realise how little I know!!). Thanks 🙂

  • Interesting – thanks for sharing!

  • I found this post a different way of looking at the issue. Thanks Bec for the post.

  • Great post. Love this. I’ve been mostly stay at home since I was made redundant when on maternity leave with my eldest, 17 years ago. I haven’t needed to work thankfully because the childcare costs alone when they were little and not being near family would have ruled this out. I’ve always wanted to work though, so working from home around the family when I’m able has been my way forward. Of course now the girls are a tad older, I’ve been re-evaluating things, especially the lack of superannuation side of things.

  • That was awesome. Very informative, and also inspiring. I kind of want to go and calculate how much I should have been paid the the last 12 years of being a SAHM mum, and send someone a cheque.
    No idea who I would send the cheque too, but it’s a fun idea 😉

    • Yes, that’s a problem for another day, isn’t it? It’s one thing to quantify what parents could/should be paid, quite another to try to figure out who/what should pay for it…

  • In a few heated moments in our house I’ve presented my husband with a bill for my home/child caring services for the past 7 years! It’s huge! The same situation is true of people who look after elderly or disabled people in their homes. Nursing homes cost an absolute fortune, and the burden on families who keep their elderly or disabled family members at home is huge. Financial, physical, emotional…

  • Absolutely! What is this national obsession with pushing families to have both parents working, particularly when children are very young. I have no problem with people working if they want to, but so many families have both working because they feel they have to, and there is little support for one parent to stay home. In our family, I work full time, whilst my husband stays at home. Our youngest goes to school next year, and he is already getting questions about what he is planning to do next year, like he can’t continue to perform family duties. It’s doubly bad because as a male, people expect him to go out to work a lot more than a woman.

  • Ironically I can’t afford to go back to work because 95% of my wage would go to childcare, tax, petrol, food, work clothes and that 5% thats left over isn’t worth losing all the time with my daughter so good luck to them getting me back to work. I don’t know how families with more than one child afford it {although they probably have better paying jobs than me}.

  • I hadn’t really thought about it in these terms before – great article! I guess this is why there are stories (from overseas I think) where there are cases of governments discouraging self sufficiency – it wouldn’t contribute to the GDP if you grew your own veggies instead of buying them.

  • This whole “real job” malarky irks me. You’re right, we (SAHMs) contribute to the GDP in the same round about way as many other things. And I feel sorry for the mum that steps away from her children to work and brings home $1500 after paying for childcare etc.

    • Makes me wonder when non-finacial contributions will be valued by our society!

  • We should all register to become family daycarers… then split up and mind each others kids on alternating days of the week and claim the federal CCR:-) Problem solved…

    • goldcoastmum

      Great idea! 😉

  • Yes. It makes me so angry and I think it’s one of the major issues when it comes to equality – let’s stop trying to push women into ‘paid work’ and reconsider what we think of work of value in general.

  • Bloody good read, Bec!

  • I recently went back to work and I only did this after all my girls were at school so I didn’t have to pay child care. It really wasn’t economically sound for me to work and pay for care, we would be paying out more than I was earning. Also I was really lucky to find a job 5 minutes from school and home, therefore I am not paying out much in petrol and have no travel time… as I said lucky, many are not and sometimes working outside the home is just not financially worth it.

  • Great post Bec. We should all organise a rotating cleaning/caring system, providing reciprocal services to each other and – most importantly – sending invoices. So no one is out of pocket, everyone is ‘contributing’ and all the families are well looked after!!

  • Great post and a great way of looking at it too. I’m now curious to put a “paid” value on my work in the home – will be interesting!

  • Natalie @ Our Parallel Connect

    Fantastic post Bec… A sahm has never been worthy of being considered as helping the economy, but the politicians at election time always say just how important and hard raising The next generation is…. Sorry but still a mans world because this is still considered a woman’s job

  • Umm ok
    I am reading this at the doctors with a sick child (paying for a service i believe!) After his ear infection is sorted i will be no doubt buying some more antibiotics (paying for another service) then going to buy some groceries because the kids do not stop eating!
    I also have a bill to pay on line followed by cooking and cleaning (using power/wifi etc) then preschool pick up.
    Just because I stay at home does not at all mean i contribute nothing.
    It is about time the government got its act together.
    Great post.

  • goldcoastmum

    Great article. Very interesting 🙂

  • Great article Bec! As a fella who was a stay at home dad, I completely agree with perspective being the biggest problem when it comes to valuing family life over the almighty dollar. I spent a whole year feeling like I was contributing nothing to our household because I had to put my hand out to my wife every time I needed to do the shopping. The lack of direct financial value, as seen from all sectors of our society, has made childrearing a valueless job… unless you run a daycare centre that is.

  • My husband owns a small business and I am a stay-at-home-mum. I could return to work and place our two children in childcare {for more than $1100 a week if I could actually find a place}, but then I think that our household would be overwhelmed and my husband would be unable to run his business as efficiently as he does when I take care of everything at home. Not to mention the fact that I would be going to work on broken sleep and doubt that I would be doing that good of a job.

  • Makes you think. I wonder what I’d calculate my worth as a SAHM, surely pushing 6 figures 🙂 And I remember the great banana drought, a banana become the ultimate toddler treat!

  • AParentingLife

    Great post Bec. Leaving some belated fairy wishes and butterfly kisses from #teamBOT

  • Robyna@theMummyandtheMinx

    This is amazing – thank you so much for this post. I think it goes to the heart of what is generally valued by our society and what is not.

  • Oh yes indeed well said…I knew I was valuable, lovely to see it in print though…black and white contribution…x