And then there were the wife bonuses.
I was thunderstruck when I heard mention of a “bonus” over coffee. Later I overheard someone who didn’t work say she would buy a table at an event once her bonus was set. A woman with a business degree but no job mentioned waiting for her “year-end” to shop for clothing. Further probing revealed that the annual wife bonus was not an uncommon practice in this tribe.
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.
Women who didn’t get them joked about possible sexual performance metrics. Women who received them usually retreated, demurring when pressed to discuss it further, proof to an anthropologist that a topic is taboo, culturally loaded and dense with meaning.
Finally got around to reading this piece in the NYTimes on Upper East Side moms. Is this real?
The author wrote the piece to promote her new memoir titled, no joke, Primates of Park Avenue.
An Upper East Side wife penned this response with about as virally-optimized a title as even the greatest minds in the Buzzfeed labs could concoct: I get a wife bonus and I deserve it, so STFU. 2015 is shaping up to be the year every one tried to break the internet.
Al came out in favor of the idea of the wife bonus almost as soon as we moved to Australia. He’s got a very politically incorrect sense of humor and joked it was to reward me for being a “good little wife,” which made me laugh out loud. Seriously, though, we settled on the exact terms: When he received his bonus every year at the end of April, we’d each take a fifth after tax and bank the rest.
I’m exceptionally lucky to have a husband who values how important a job it is to stay home and take care of a child, as well as understanding how difficult it is to leave friends, family and career prospects behind to further his career. He was actually pleased to have a tangible way to recognize the contribution that I also make to the success of our lives.
The wife bonus gives me not only financial freedom, but freedom from guilt too. We have a joint account, and before we started the system, I was reluctant to spend our money on myself, even though my husband insisted he was happy for me to. Now that I have a quantifiable amount to treat myself with, I don’t feel guilty doing so.
The five-figure amount has pretty much stayed the same despite the economy. Last year, I bought a Prada handbag and Burberry raincoat for about $1,500 each. I tend to wait until I’m back home in London to spend my bonus because I can leave Lala with a member of the family and go on a week-long splurge to upscale stores like Selfridges. My favorite labels include Bottega Veneta, Chanel, Prada, Smythson, Erdem and Stella McCartney.
I will leave aside any personal judgment here and just observe that the furor reflects the evolving conception of marriage. Whereas once they were largely seen as economic arrangements, now we expect more from marriage, from our spouses. They must fulfill us in every way. I can't tell what the model of hedonic marriage has to say about wife bonuses, perhaps an economist out there has an analysis.
If the couples observed here just had shared bank accounts and the money flowed the same way otherwise, we wouldn't have any such furor. The framing is everything here.