This Calculator Tells You Exactly How Much Money You Lose When You Stay Home with Your Kids

Is it really worth it to keep working when childcare is eating up my entire paycheck?

If you’re a working mom in 2017, chances are you’ve asked yourself this question a time or 10,000.

It’s no secret that childcare costs are prohibitively expensive—more than college tuition in many states. Paying $20,000 a year for daycare doesn’t make much sense when your take-home pay (after taxes and commuting) barely covers the cost. Or so the reasoning goes.

Michael Madowitz, an economist at the Center for American Progress, a progressive research and advocacy organization, says families often forget the long-term picture when making these calculations. So he developed a calculator that does just that.

In addition to the wages moms and dads lose when they’re not working, they also lose the chance to receive raises and to sock away retirement savings. And because the effects are cumulative, they add up over time to a whole lot of money.

For example, a 26-year-old mom making $44,148 (the median pay in the U.S.), will lose her salary in wages for taking a year off. But she will also lose $64,393 in wage growth (the cumulative effect of time off on future earnings), as well as $52,945 in retirement assets and benefits. (Since the interest on 401(k) plan contributions compound over time, even a small break equals a big dent in long-term benefits.)

Want to run the numbers for yourself? The calculator uses a variety of factors (gender, current age, salary, age when you started working full-time, age you plan to take time off for caregiving and years planned to be out of the labor force) to determine how much you’d lose, down to the dollar. Click here to try it out.

Madowitz came up with the calculator after he and his wife, a mathematician, had kids and were trying to figure out if it made sense for him to stay home with their children. He noticed that their numbers were a bit different from many of their friends.

“We were talking about our decision in this long-term framework, and a lot of other people were talking about it in terms of, ‘I bring home X, and childcare costs Y. If X is less than Y, then I’d be making less money than working.’ Having done these calculations, we weren’t even in the same ballpark with the amount of money we thought was at stake,” he says.


  • Even When Dads Stay Home, Working Moms Handle More Childcare

    It’s a similar scenario when it comes to housework, too.

Ultimately, he says, the goal of the calculator is to illustrate to families and policymakers alike what a huge impact childcare costs have on the American economy, since many moms now decide to stay home rather than fork over thousands for care. It stands to be an especially big loss for Millennials, a group where a greater percentage of women have degrees than men.

“If we do end up in a situation where a lot of parents have spent a lot of money going to school and investing in their careers early, and can’t actually afford to keep working through the early years of parenthood, that’s a big problem for our economy.”

Of course, there are other factors to weigh when deciding whether or not to stay home with your kids—and emotional appeals definitely deserve consideration. Those, a calculator can’t capture, of course.

But if you love working and are tempted to quit because your salary equals the cost of daycare, the big dollars of these long-term savings may give you some comfort.