The color of money

Michelle Singletary: Can you chart a dad’s value?

 

Washington Post Service

When it comes to our parents, we tend to assign value by how much we spend. Don’t believe me. Let’s compare Mother’s Day to Father’s Day.

We spend more on mothers.

They get meals out, jewelry or flowers — and OK, sometimes ugly floral pajama sets. But the spending is much higher than what’s purchased for dads.

Consumers said they had planned to spend an average of $168.94 on their moms this time, up 11 percent from last year’s $152.52, according to a Mother’s Day survey conducted by BIGinsight for the National Retail Federation. The poll found that when it came to spending on electronics for mom, 14.1 percent of respondents — the highest in the survey’s history — planned to shell out more than $2.3 billion.

Compare those figures to what people said they planned to spend for Father’s Day. The average person will pay $119.84, up from $117.14 last year. As for electronics, it is $1.7 billion on new gadgets such as a tablet or GPS system. Come on, if there is any spending category for fathers that should best or at least equal the amount spent on moms, it’s on electronic stuff, right?

So, do the numbers mean we value dads less?

Placing a value on fathers doesn’t stop with gifts. Dads themselves place less value on the jobs they do around the house.

Insure.com’s Father’s Day Index values dad’s household contributions at $23,344, up from $20,248 last year. That’s still less than the valuation for mothers. In its Mother’s Day Index, Insure.com estimated the dollar value of the responsibilities of mothers at $59,862, down from $60,182 in 2012. The online site uses various household duties to calculate the salary figures using occupational wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The index does not include a salary from work outside the home for mothers or fathers.

In the Insure.com survey, mothers said they spend most of their time with child care duties, followed by cooking and cleaning. The fathers surveyed said the domestic duties they most helped with included homework, barbecuing or cooking, and driving.

Here’s an interesting figure from the Census Bureau — last year there were an estimated 189,000 stay-at-home dads with children younger than 15. Collectively, the dads were caring for about 369,000 children. Many of those fathers are choosing to be stay-at-home parents, according to researchers from the Boston College Center for Work & Family in a report released last year.

“Men’s involvement in child-rearing and other domestic activities is clearly on the rise, whether or not they are in the workplace,” the researchers wrote in their report. “While the number of at-home fathers is still very small, it is clear that virtually all fathers will be more actively engaged with their children in the future as fathers need and want to be more than simply breadwinners.”

The Pew Research Center also reported recently that the roles of moms and dads are converging. “The way mothers and fathers spend their time has changed dramatically in the past half-century,” the report said.

“Dads are doing more housework and child care; moms more paid work outside the home.”

About the same percentage of mothers as fathers reported feeling stressed about juggling work and family life.

“Overall, 33 percent of parents with children under age 18 say they are not spending enough time with their children,” Pew said. “Fathers are much more likely than mothers to feel this way.”

Still, fathers express what they want. Most want to receive gift cards (31.2 percent), electronics (29 percent) and dinner (24.7 percent), according to CreditDonkey, a credit-card comparison website.

I have been guilty over the years of not encouraging my children to do more for their dad on Father’s Day. But in my defense, I don’t demand much for Mother’s Day either. I’m just not a fan of spending money to confirm our love.

It’s too much of a burden for everyone. For the children (or spouse), it can be stressful trying to find something that will be liked and appreciated and for the recipient (mother or father) to feign delight when the gift isn’t what they may want.

As for my question, I don’t think we give less to fathers because they are less valued. I think dads in general don’t put the same kind of pressure that some mothers put on their children to get them just the right gift.

So dads, don’t take the purchasing difference between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day personal. It could just be an indication that your children don’t feel obligated to spend so much to please you. And that’s a good thing.

Hear Michelle Singletary’s personal finance reports on www.npr.org. Readers may write to her c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., NW, Washington DC 20081.

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