Bryan Caplan  

Giving Surveys a Bad Name: Women's Day on Mother's Pay

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Jimbo and Me... Bottom Line Blinder...

I've never denied it: Some surveys are really stupid:

If women ruled the world, stay-at-home moms would earn an annual salary equal to or more than $100,000. That’s according to a new poll from Woman’s Day magazine and AOL.com, which found that more than half (52 percent) of women would pay a stay-at-home mom this annual salary.

That's the summary. Here's the exact question:
If stay-at-home moms got a paycheck, how much should they earn annually?

The options: $25,000; $50,000; $100,000; $250,000. The responses:



$'s
%
$25,000
13%
$50,000
35%
$100,000
29%
$250,000
23%

The most glaring problem with this question is that it doesn't mention who is supposed to be cutting the checks. The government? Husbands? Santa Claus? I have no idea - and I doubt the authors of the questions or the survey participants did either.


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TRACKBACKS (3 to date)
TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/696
The author at Economic Investigations in a related article titled Stated Preference vs. Revealed Preference writes:
    Keeping it real with the classics… Stated Preference vs. Revealed Preference: Giving Surveys a Bad Name: Women’s Day on Mother’s Pay […] The most glaring problem with this question is that it doesn’t mention who is suppose... [Tracked on May 6, 2007 8:33 AM]
COMMENTS (23 to date)
trumpetbob15 writes:

I have another related question. If this survey is implying men rule the world, shouldn't stay-at-home dads be getting paid? Or are the survey authors assuming a difference between men and women since the generic man looks down on stay-at-home fathers? Then again, maybe I am reading more into a poor question than I should be.

Hollywood_Freaks writes:

They are paying themselves.

Clark writes:

I wonder what the answer to "How much would you pay a maid/nanny to perform the same duties?" would be? How about the actual data on people who do these jobs? I'm guessing it would be around $8-12/hour, based on local rates.

Brad Hutchings writes:

Cavuto had a debate on this survey on his Friday show. A representative man and woman argued over whether cooking or taking out the trash was more difficult work. It was the kind of discussion I secretly hoped would erupt in a late 1980s overly serious feminism-dominated humanities breadth course. But I have a pretty wicked sense of humor... Seeing the methodology, this is doubly funny.

Tom West writes:

Oh stop it, Bryan.

This is the same sort of argument I might get from my son when he's being petulant. You both *know* what the survey is trying to convey, realize that it has successfully conveyed that information to its readers, but decide to pick it apart on a literal basis that is entirely unrelated to the true information it was successfully conveying.

Would the survey question really have been more effective to its readers if it had said "In our current society, money is the only universally recognized metric of worth. On that basis, relative to the effort involved and the value to the individuals affected, what worth would you place on housekeeping with respect to the salaries of a basket of other jobs."?

Brandon Berg writes:

Tom:
Sure, but many of the the answers are stupid. And the main reason they're stupid is that the respondents aren't thinking about where the money would come from.

blink writes:

We can put a different spin on the results: perhaps the responses implicitly answer the question, “What is the least amount a stay-at-home mom should accept to join the work force?” Now the responses represent a sort of “contemptibility” index – if a current stay-at-home mother accepts “only” $50,000 or $100,000 to work, she will be reproached. That might even be true.

John Pertz writes:

The survey is stupid because without knowing the identity of the person making the payment then how could anyone estimate as to what she should be paid?

Stan writes:

Think about amount of work hours. If a stay at home mom truly stays at home and doesn't leave, does that represent 150 hours of overtime a week?

P.S... perhaps this belongs in Overcoming Bias, but it is interesting to see what people choose to blog about. There are innumerable ridiculous surveys, questions, topics and ideas to blog about. But why exactly is this posted here? We can perhaps get insight into unconscious biases based on what people choose to post/think about.

David writes:

Honestly, this whole survey is pretty funny and stereotypical. Seriously, this is basically a bunch of women talking about their feelings.

This question shows that it's easier to make excuses for yourself than for your own mother (because that represents making excuses for yourself):

YOU

I do the best I can. 65%

I’m an excellent mom. 33%

I’m just not very good at it. 2%

YOUR MOM

She did the best she could. 49%

She was an excellent mom. 34%

She wasn’t very good at it. 17%

And I don't know how you take anything seriously with this question:

Pick the celebrity dad you’d most like to have kids with
Tom West writes:

the respondents aren't thinking about where the money would come from.

*sigh*. No, they're not. That's because there isn't any money coming from anywhere and the readers understand that, even if a bunch of economists don't.

Come on, are you guys really serious in your inability to understand what question was really asked? Do you really want to paint yourselves as more clueless than the readers? The readers understand that money is now used as a metric of social worth, not just a medium of exchange. Do you?

David writes:

Tom West wrote:

Come on, are you guys really serious in your inability to understand what question was really asked? Do you really want to paint yourselves as more clueless than the readers? The readers understand that money is now used as a metric of social worth, not just a medium of exchange. Do you?

Let's go with this "social worth." Now you're claiming that people's opinions that stay-at-home mothers deserve $100,000 a year is based on a socially optimum value. Suppose this social worth matters. It is certainly true that if the individual worth of a stay at home mom to a household was $100,000 a year, then women would not go into the workforce for less than $100,000 a year. That women work for salaries of under $100,000 implies that their individual valuations for being a stay at home mom are lower than the social valuation. Therefore, your argument would be that the minimum wage for women working outside the home should be $100,000 and that subsidies should be given to discourage women from, er, skirting the law.

The price system forces people to put their money where their mouth is. Since we don't see a $100,000 minimum wage for women or even calls for such a thing, we conclude that this survey is not a measure of social value as much as emotional value.

Bill writes:

The readers understand that money is now used as a metric of social worth, not just a medium of exchange. Do you?

Says who? Shallow people?

Tom West writes:

The price system forces people to put their money where their mouth is.

Such a system of equating worth with what people will actually pay implicitly means that only the wealthy are worthy of judging worth. That's true in a strictly financial sense, but I think most human beings would feel that the work of a man who spends his life inoculating the penniless is worth more than the work of the man who tends to Paris Hilton's little dog. However the latter is financially worth more.

We're long past the point where non-numerical praise has universal meaning. Money is no longer a measure of financial success, but also a measure of worth as a human being. Thus non-economists will often rate the worth of something in dollars, *even when speaking in a non-financial sense*. The man who saves many because of his heroism doesn't earn anything. The financial worth of his act is $0.00. But ask people how much his act was worth, and they'll say millions.

It's not that they don't understand economics. It's that you don't understand that dollars, price and worth mean a lot more than simple finance in our current social context.

Randy writes:

Tom West,

Re; "Such a system of equating worth with what people will actually pay implicitly means that only the wealthy are worthy of judging worth."

Not sure how you arrive at this conclusion. Everyone decides for themselves what things are worth to them. If this were not true, we would indeed have people forcing us to pay women hundreds of thousands of dollars to be stay at home mothers.

David writes:
Such a system of equating worth with what people will actually pay implicitly means that only the wealthy are worthy of judging worth. That's true in a strictly financial sense, but I think most human beings would feel that the work of a man who spends his life inoculating the penniless is worth more than the work of the man who tends to Paris Hilton's little dog. However the latter is financially worth more.

Actually, I was just illustrating how the survey was not really a useful indicator of social financial worth, or whatever you'd call it. They may be richer individually in some cases, but I think it's clear to see we would not be a richer society if all women in the US who earned less than $100,000 were stay at home moms.

The man who saves many because of his heroism doesn't earn anything. The financial worth of his act is $0.00. But ask people how much his act was worth, and they'll say millions.

It's not that they don't understand economics. It's that you don't understand that dollars, price and worth mean a lot more than simple finance in our current social context.

Or it could mean that there is an implicit recognition of oppurtunity cost. At the surface, he just saved a whole lot of money in funeral costs, and if those services did not all happen on weekends, money in lost productivity for those who went to attend during the week. Then you have to consider the lost productivity of those people who died, and how some of them may have died before having children. It is true that his act was worth zero in a financial sense, but his inaction would have cost society heavily. To say his act was worth millions in an economic sense is not foolish.

Now you'd throw back at me, why isn't the man compensated? Well he is, to borrow from Andy Warhol, with his 15 minutes of fame. He might get some other recognition, endorsements, prizes, or someone may give him a gift. But he gets the good media treatment, people honor him, friends and neighbors will think more highly of him. Now I never argued that money was a sole measure of worth in society, and in fact such things as reputation matter as well.

In fact, reputation is something people will pay dearly for; that is why Public Relations people exist. Our hero gets a bunch of excellent free PR - he'll probably be featured on every nightly newscast, he can go on Oprah. That may be worth it to him, but if he was compensated monetarily, that would kill his reputation and we'd call him a mercenary, and a guy who doesn't necessarily want to be famous does not want bad PR.

Bob writes:

Man, I can't believe that Tom West is getting smacked around for saying what's obviously true - the survey shouldn't be read literally. Of course, you have to get past the fact that the $ values are inflated (but, hey, I doubt you could find any group that would lowball the question "how much do you think you are worth?").

On the other hand, questions that involve "...should be paid" may be damaging to the extent that they contribute to a general sense that the wage market is somehow unfair.

Randy writes:

Bob,

You'll have to forgive me for believing that the statement is meant literally, as the folks on the left are constantly making such statements and usually do appear to believe in them literally. Statements like; people should be paid a living wage, healthcare is a right, etc., etc. I am well aware that not everything that has value can be easily assigned a dollar value, but if they are going to assign a dollar value, then they should do it right.

Christina writes:

My sister emailed the similar Salary.com figure of around $139,000 to the family last Friday as a sort of Mother's Day item to spur us to think of how much we value motherhood.

My brothers were not amused. One called it a bunch of crap since June Cleaver-esque wives are extinct; one demanded husband pay in the neighborhood of $3 million; and a third pointed out that since family resources are pooled any stay-at-home parent automatically earns roughly half of their spouse's salary plus benefits like a house, car, insurance, etc.

larry writes:

I pay most of my income to my ex-wife. I suppose that sort of thing should be factored in somehow. Perhaps I'm considered to be just catching up on these inflated salaries.

(-_-) writes:

Stay at home moms are doing a service themselves. If you want to look at where the money would come from it is given to themselves for that service (saving the money that it takes to get a nanny)>

Jordan writes:

I think that it is important to consider the opportunity cost for stay-at-home mothers. Would the family employ a nanny or housekeeper if the mother were to get a job? Perhaps she is already being payed by not having to pay for someone else's services. It is interesting to note that housekeepers typically do not get paid $100,000 a year.

Floccina writes:

OT but the survey reminds that a penny saved is 2 pennies earned because you have already paid taxes on it. My assumption is that a stay at home wife saves the family some money.

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