Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Whose salary pays for childcare?

Peanut and I just discussed an issue that The New York Times recently covered - in a two-income household, whose salary pays for childcare?

For many women, it seems like their salary has to cover the cost of childcare in order for them to justify going back to work. I sort of feel like that, even if it's unfair.

I have only started digging into what childcare might cost us - given Baby M's health situation, the only viable option is a full-time dedicated nanny who works out of our home. That makes childcare not only pricey but also hard to calculate. (More on this in a future post, but we'd be required to pay taxes and expected to provide health insurance, mileage, and paid vacation and sick days as well - wow!) I'm doing it with a mental note towards whether the total winds up being more or less than what I bring home.

But why me? Why not Peanut?

He carries our health insurance, but my job offers health insurance too. His salary is higher, so we could afford "more nanny" even if we'd be affording less other stuff. He likes his job - but I like mine too. Someone has to care for our child - it could just as easily be him, right? Prior to her birth, all of our money went into a single pot and covered all of our expenses - so why is this one issue so thorny?

Despite all the advances we've made in feminism, I've still internalized the idea that it's the woman's job to care for the child, whether that means literally by staying home or figuratively by providing the money that pays for his or her care. On one hand, financially, it makes more sense for us to lose one income rather than pay that entire income and then some to someone else to do a job I could do. On the other hand, leaving the workforce might affect my career path for the rest of my life - it will certainly affect my earning potential.

So, which is it to be?

Well, in our situation, money won't exactly be the deciding factor. Even if we find super affordable childcare, Baby M's health will dictate whether I stay home. I am more than a primary caregiver at this point, and until her weight gain is stable and her medical needs are less critical, it's not something I can trust to anyone else. I'm happy, in a way, to have that as a reason, instead of the question of whose salary covers her care.

How did you determine how to pay for childcare? Did you struggle with this issue?


  1. His salary is higher, so we could afford "more nanny" even if we'd be affording less other stuff.

    If he were to stay home and take of Baby M, though, you wouldn't be getting "more nanny" -- you'd be getting the same amount of parent, with less (from your income) to pay for the other things.

    You've got health insurance through your job, though, which at least opens that up as a possibility. The argument from the NYT seems to be aimed at households where (1) the woman makes considerably less than the man and (2) it's taken as a given that the mother and *not* the father wants to stay home.

    In my household, we're still figuring out how it might work when we add kids, but almost certainly it will depend on where our health insurance comes from and who's making more income at the time. The assumption there is that we will need as much income as we can get to make ends meet, so the lower paycheck would be the one to get dropped. In situations where either parent's salary is high enough to cover basic needs (and/or also pay for childcare), there is more freedom to choose.

  2. We just... paid for it. Out of the joint account.

    Maybe things work differently in the US so I'm not understanding the question. Is it somehow linked to your salary? How can Peanut paying for it mean you get 'more nanny'?

    The only link over here (in Australia) is that in order to get the childcare rebate which covers 50% of the cost of childcare at creche (but not nannies afaik) (at least until the government starts means testing that too) I have to work a minimum of 20 hours a week. So I guess it IS linked to my work, if not my salary.

    Nicky at Not My Mother http://www.notmymother.net

    1. Hi Nicky, it's just sort of a mental thing, which I guess I had a hard time putting into words. It's like, if my salary doesn't completely cover the cost of the nanny, can I justify going back to work?

  3. I have never thought about it as mine or his. All of our money is 100% joint, so child care, and every single other item that supports our two young children, comes out of our pool of money. Our incomes our wildly different (we both work full time, but he makes about 3x what I make and we both get full benefits).
    That being said, there was a time when we had to run the numbers and decide if it financially made sense for me to work after paying for daycare for two kids under age two and other work expenses, but we've never discussed who's paycheck the cost would come from, because everything that comes in and goes out goes in the same pot.

  4. Oh, I also have to add that there are so many things to consider when deciding whether or not to return to work. There was a span of about two years where I just broke even. We talked many times about the value of staying home vs. working. I don't think there is a hard and fast rule and I don't think it all comes down to money.
    I took a one year leave and was bored to tears most of the time. I adore my children, but money was tight and I barely knew any other stay-at-home moms so we spent 90% of our time at home. I ended up desperately wanting to go back even though I knew that it wouldn't make a financial impact for a few years.
    Now that my oldest is in all day Kindergarten (free in our district) I work for the same district and they are very family friendly. My husband and I work our schedules so that he drops off since I go in early and I pick up. This results in no child care for my older child. My younger child goes to a daycare. They also work with me for conference weeks and breaks (I'm not a teacher, I work year round)
    You have to look ahead. If I had quit, there is a lot of doubt that I would have found a job that was so accommodating for my schedule. I decided to look long term and keep my job and now I couldn't be happier. I love what I do and where I work and it allows me to still be very involved with my children.
    It doesn't seem like it now, but you are going to blink and baby will be in school. How easy will it be for you to find another job? How will the commute be, the environment, the salary, the stability? If you have a good thing going, I'd really think about if you want to give that up. On the other hand, you can never get these years back and, like I said, they go SO fast!

  5. I read Jessica's post earlier this week (and recently read her novel, Sad Desk Salad, incidentally) and I think this is probably something women have struggled with ever since women entered the paying workforce. But it's about more than simply the paycheck - it's also about long term employability, your child's needs, and your OWN wants, needs, and ambitions. Not an easy choice to make, I'm sure.

  6. The authors of the book "When Partners Become Parents" remark that whenever the participants in the research group talked about childcare, in all cases the parents subtracted the cost from the woman's salary, not from joint household income. It was clearly the default, and it startled the researchers. I don't think much has changed since 1992, when the book was first published. : (


    1. That book looks really interesting - thanks for letting me know about it!


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