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The Wife Bonus, Or What Happens When Your Husband Becomes Your Boss

May 21, 2015 2 min read

The real (like actually real) housewives of New York City are making more just living as stay at home moms, according to Wednesday Martin, Ph.D, a social researcher and author of the new book Primates of Park Avenue. These women run their homes "like CEOs," Martin writes in The New York Times, and for that, some of them receive a very executive-like "payment" from their wealthy husbands: the wife bonus. Who are these women, you ask? For the most part, they are highly educated, in their thirties and married to banker types. Martin says:
The women I met, mainly at playgrounds, play groups and the nursery schools where I took my sons, were mostly thirtysomethings with advanced degrees from prestigious universities and business schools. They were married to rich, powerful men, many of whom ran hedge or private equity funds; they often had three or four children under the age of 10; they lived west of Lexington Avenue, north of 63rd Street and south of 94th Street; and they did not work outside the home.
Martin was 'thunderstruck' when she heard about the wife bonus during her six years of research.
A wife bonus, I was told, might be hammered out in a prenup or postnup, and distributed on the basis of not only how well her husband's fund had done but her own performance—how well she managed the home budget, whether the kids got into a "good" school—the same way their husbands were rewarded at investment banks. In turn these bonuses were a ticket to a modicum of financial independence and participation in a social sphere where you don't just go to lunch, you buy a $10,000 table at the benefit luncheon a friend is hosting.
On its face, this may look demeaning. At the very least, it looks to perpetuate the payment structure of a patriarchal marriage but does it really? Martin writes, "While their husbands make millions, the privileged women with kids who I met tend to give away the skills they honed in graduate school and their professions—organizing galas, editing newsletters, running the library and bake sales—free of charge." Voluntarily so. They have the luxury of not needing a career. Martin writes that it's "an act of extravagance, a brag: 'I used to work, I can, but I don't need to.'" On one hand, it appears that these women get to live insanely extravagant lifestyles at the cost of their independence but on the other, their being paid acknowledges child care and family chores as being real work that has tangible value. Before you start looking for this type of arrangement (or before you starting trying to free the housewives from the oppression of their husband's money), remember that this isn't a widespread practice. It seems to be an exclusive practice in an exclusive zip code. Darn. I was considering the move to NYC. What do you think of the 'wife bonus?' Do you think it is oppressive or impressive? Do know a woman on an 'allowance?' Do you know a woman who pays her husband in a similar fashion? Share your thoughts in a comment!

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