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Some Stay-at-Home Moms Are Getting 'Wife Bonuses' for Performance

The Short of It

Writer Wednesday Martin has lived among wealthy moms in New York's Upper East Side, and she wrote about their unconventional lives in a New York Times essay that everyone's buzzing about. Probably the most shocking detail she gives is some of these women receive large "bonuses" for good parenting from their husbands.

The Lowdown

Martin says these women have advanced degrees from highly respected universities and have become stay-at-home moms to three or four kids; they live in a small radius on New York's Upper East Side "north of 63rd Street and south of 94th Street." Their husbands make millions; they have multiple homes; and they look 10 years younger than their ages, she says.

Though they don't have jobs outside their homes, many of these moms certainly work hard. Martin says they volunteer to organize charity events and bake sales, edit newsletters, and obviously, care for their children. And while they don't earn money for those things, it's pretty common for their husbands to compensate them for a "job well done" through bonuses.

She writes: "A wife bonus, I was told, might be hammered out in a pre-nup or post-nup, 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."

The Upshot

At first thought, it might sound awesome to get a "wife bonus." After all, stay-at-home moms work hard even though they're not at work, and it'd be nice to have it literally pay off.

But, Martin points out that this is one of the many ways these wealthy women are divided from the men in their lives. Husbands and wives sit separately at dinner parties; there are also a ton of women-only events, parties and nights out in this social circle. Even socially, they're separated.

"The more stratified and hierarchical the society, and the more sex segregated, the lower the status of women," Martin observes.

"Under this arrangement women are still dependent on their men—a husband may simply ignore his commitment to an abstract idea at any time," she says. "He may give you a bonus, or not. Access to your husband's money might feel good. But it can't buy you the power you get by being the one who earns, hunts or gathers it."

Getting a bonus from your husband could make a marriage feel more like a business transaction than a true partnership. For many of us, our husbands are more like our best friends and teammates than our bosses. I like being able to ask my husband to change a diaper or go to a parent-teacher conference without wondering if it would put my bonus in jeopardy. But then again, we clearly don't fall into this high-income demographic, so maybe I just don't "get it."

What do you think? Would you like to have a "wife bonus"?

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