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By Sarina Finkelstein
May 6, 2016
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy carries Caroline Kennedy’s cake to the table during a joint birthday party for Caroline and John F. Kennedy, Jr., in the President’s Dining Room (Residence), White House, Washington, D.C., November 27, 1962. Avery Hatcher, son of Associate Press Secretary, Andrew T. Hatcher, sits left of Caroline; Maria Shriver (with back to camera) sits at left in foreground.
Robert Knudsen/White House Photo—John F. Kennedy Presidential Lib

Not for nothing was Martha Washington dubbed “the mother of our country.” Since the nation’s founding, the First Lady has functioned as a sort of Mom-in-Chief to the American family—encouraging us to read our books (Laura Bush), stay away from bad influences (Nancy Reagan), and eat our veggies (Michelle Obama). And even as First Ladies have become increasingly politically active, they’ve held on to traditional tasks, playing hostess at official functions, planning state dinner menus, decorating the White House.

The Miller Center at the University of Virginia recounts, “Pretty in Pink Mamie Eisenhower loved being the nation’s hostess. She enjoyed social occasions, and she devoted much care and effort to planning menus, choosing entertainment, and making everybody feel welcome. First Lady Mamie Eisenhower took pride in the role she played caring for her husband.”

And if the First Lady has children, add to that her duties as a mom. Hillary Clinton also stated that her first order of business was to make certain her daughter Chelsea, who was 12 years old (two years older than Malia Obama) at the time she moved into the White House, had been successfully transitioned to a new school with new friends.” First Lady Michelle Obama sees her girls, Sasha and Malia, off to school every morning and then assists with homework when they return.

U.S. President elect Barack Obama and Michelle Obama get their daughters Sasha (L) and Malia ready for their first day of school at Sidwell Friends on January 5, 2009.
Callie Shell/Obama Transition Of—Reuters

It’s worth noting that the traditional role of mom–like that of First Lady–is unpaid. Which is not to say people haven’t tried. For a number of years, Salary.com has conducted a survey of stay-at-home moms that attempts to put a price tag on the many jobs they do every day–facilities manager, interior designer, plumber, and psychologist are just a few. They multiply those by the median salary for each job title and come up with a total salary that mom would earn; for 2016, it’s$143,102.

In honor of Equal Pay Day, Money recently asked Salary.com to help us determine what the First Lady would earn if hers were a paid position. We provided a job description listing the duties of a politically-active First Lady. After reviewing it, Salary.com came back with a list of 12 job titles that represented aspects of the role. They assigned a percentage weight to each role, according to its relative importance, and multiplied that by the median salary for each position, to arrive at a “hybrid job compensation estimate” for the first lady.

Now, in honor of Mother’s Day, we asked them to run the numbers again, this time using the traditional stay-at-home tasks as a benchmark.

There are some differences between life at the White House and at your house. While it is possible Martha Washington did her own laundry, Michelle Obama does not—nor does she routinely cook, do housekeeping, or drive the presidential limousine. (Although, she has been ademant that her daughters continue to do household chores so they are prepared when they leave for college.)

Based on this, we examined the duties listed in Salary.com’s Stay-At-Home Mom study, eliminated tasks that a First Lady might delegate to others, and added in ones that might be more applicable to her role in The White House (hostess, decorator, advisor to her husband). We sent that list to Salary.com to see if they could find positions with similar responsibilities, source their wages, do some math and composite a salary for the Stay-At-The-White-House-First-Lady.

Salary.com responded with a list of eight positions that each represented an aspect of the role of the First Lady:

  • Interior Designer
  • Meeting/Event Director
  • Community Relations Manager
  • Secretary to the CEO
  • Nutritional Director
  • Facilities Manager
  • Day Care Center Teacher – the closest role to motherhood
  • Licensed Professional Counselor – a role similar to “confidant” to her husband

They sourced the salary of each position in the Washington, D.C. area (as shown in the chart below):

Then, they weighted each based on how much of the First Lady’s time is likely devoted to each task (from 5% for Day Care Teacher if she is a parent to 20% as a Community Relations Manager); multiplied the weight by the salary; and added them up to arrive at a hybrid salary of $119,300. (This salary would have been significantly higher had it not been for the inclusion of “Day Care Center Teacher” and “Licensed Professional Counselor.”)

POLL: Should The First Lady Be Paid?

While recent First Ladies have been more politically-active, it’s worth pointing out that if Melania Trump become the next First Lady, she would likely fit into the more traditional mold. In 1999, before she and The Donald were married, The New York Times asked Melania what her role would be if they were ever to end up in the White House, and she explained, “I would be very traditional. Like Betty Ford or Jackie Kennedy. I would support him.”

Donald Trump, Barron Trump, and Melania Trump attend Trump Invitational Grand Prix Mar-a-Lago Club at The Mar-a-Largo Club on January 4, 2015 in Palm Beach, Florida.
Gustavo Caballero—Getty Images

True to form, the New Yorker notes in a recent profile of their marriage that the former model and self-proclaimed full-time mom “has been largely absent from the campaign trail, preferring, she says, to stay at home with Barron, her ten-year-old son with Donald.” Fortune even reported, “it seems Melania would be more like Laura Bush focusing on her husband’s happiness and domestic tranquility.” And, Melania explained to GQ, ““I chose not to go into politics and policy,” she tells me. “Those policies are my husband’s job.”




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