Paying Mothers for Their Child-Rearing Efforts: Yes or No?

Money tends to cheapen sacrifice and love.

House Bill 8875 being pushed by Rep. Joey Salceda of Albay seeks to provide PHP 2,000 monthly salary to mothers who are taking care of their children 12 years old and below. He said there are around 11.2 million Filipino women most of whom are unemployed and taking care of children. The Department of Social Welfare and Development is envisioned to implement the program.

At the outset, the bill seems commendable. It is an anti-poverty measure which also seeks to incentivize mothers to care more for their children. But in another sense, the bill smacks of sheer state paternalism. Insidiously, the bill intrudes into the realm of what is traditionally the heart of family and social life, i.e., the rearing and caring of children which, throughout history, has been unpaid labor.

In his book “Predictably Irrational,” Dan Ariely, the Israeli economist, clearly distinguishes market versus social transactions, and the danger of blurring the line between the two. On the one hand, market transactions are those engaged in by two impersonal parties; money is involved, and it facilitates the buying and selling of goods and services.

On the other hand, social transactions are those involving relationships among family members, relatives, and friends. These include tasks that they do to each other without expectation of payment.

Love and sacrifice, including the rearing of children, after all, can't be given full value by the market, and paying mothers and caregivers has the potential of reducing their sacrifice and the way they value their effort. People may do something for free to their family and friends, but not if they are paid.

This is the paradox of marketizing a social norm and in many instances, social norms are more powerful incentives than money. In some research, former volunteers performed at their work better than when they began to get paid. The payment somehow clouds the purity of their volunteer work. I am sure that this same behavior pattern will show up in mothers once they begin to get paid for their child-rearing activities. Money tends to cheapen sacrifice and love.

About the Author
Mr. Oscar F. Picazo is a retired specialist in health systems, health economics, and social policy. He has worked in 24 countries for the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and as an independent consultant. He returned to the Philippines in 2009 and became a senior research consultant for the Philippine Institute of Development Studies.
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