Upper East Side Moms Introduce Us To Concept Of Annual Wife Bonus

By Liz Farrell
The Island Packet (Hilton Head Island, S.C.)

Just over a week ago, I read a piece in The New York Times that gave me pause … actually, it gave me chuckle. I didn’t pause at all. I just laughed.

You might laugh, too.

Writer and social researcher Wednesday Martin published an essay called “Poor Little Rich Women,” in which she outlined the premise of her latest book “Primates of Park Avenue.”

The book, which will be published June 2, is the result of six years’ research into what life is like for a mom on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Somebody had to do it.

Shameless spectators can’t live on “Real Housewives” alone.

In the essay, Martin tells us that the moms she encountered — more than 100 allowed her to observe their lives and are now freaking out about it — were “wealthy, competent and beautiful women, many with irony, intelligence and a sense of humor about their tribalism” … which is exactly what Tyra Banks told the bottom two contestants on “America’s Next Top Model” each week before she sent one home.

After mentioning the socials, the getaways, the shopping and her fascination at how willingly segregated the women keep themselves from the men, Martin gave us this gift, which is what has everyone abuzz (one person was even a-chuckle):

“And then there were the wife bonuses.”

And then there were the wife bonuses.

The wife bonuses!

Where did this fresh little financial concept come from?

In case you can’t figure out what a wife bonus is — in case you’re the type of person whose natural assumption is that the men get another wife as year-end reward — here it is, according to Martin:

“A wife bonus … 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.”

W-I-F-E-B-O-N-U-S. Wife bonus.

(And regular wives everywhere just rolled their eyes.)

What does the “wife bonus” say about feminism? What does it say about the power structure in a marriage? What happens to the kid who puts his mom’s goal-based bonus at risk? Why doesn’t the money belong to everyone? Do they not trust each other?

Hold up. Does she work for him?

There are a lot of ways to look at a wife bonus. Polly Phillips, who lives in Belgium, wrote a defense of hers for The Telegraph.

“While the ‘Park Avenue primates’ have been pilloried for supposedly receiving a cash reward based on how well they have balanced the domestic books, enhanced their husbands’ careers by networking adeptly and aggressively, and kept them satisfied socially and sexually, I believe that receiving a bonus for being a good wife is nothing to be ashamed of.” Phillips wrote.

“Rather than being a depressing step back for feminism, I’m proud that my husband appreciates that, at the age of 32, by staying at home with our 19-month-old daughter, I’m working just as hard as he is, and he is prepared to put his money where his mouth is.”

Phillips buys Chanel with her bonus.

Her friend buys Mulberry with hers.

Phillips, by the way, looks nothing like what I would have expected of a “wife bonus”-recipient — which is to say nervous and wearing a nametag above a big orange pin that says “You’ll Do As Your Dad Says, Ask Me How.” Instead, she has a New England prep school roommate aesthetic (meaning she’s your friend’s roommate, no interest in anyone other than her boyfriend at home, loves her grandpa, too busying studying to allow people to hang out in her room, successful future ahead … that kind of look).

The way she says the bonus works in her marriage makes sense to me, I guess. She negotiated for 20 percent of his bonus. If he gets his, she gets hers.


Except isn’t that just called “sharing”? Isn’t that the same thing as “Hey, if you get your bonus this year, do you mind if I use some of that?” Or “I want you to take some of that bonus money and buy something amazing. You deserve it”?

And isn’t a “wife bonus” — the kind that comes with set goals and metrics — the same thing as giving your husband a first place ribbon and saying “Here, hand this back to me if you think I’m the best mom on the Upper East Side”?

Give me some of the money that’s already mine too if you think I’m doing a great job.

I like the idea of a woman getting recognition for how great a mom she is. I do. I like the idea that women who run their homes with the skills of a CEO, as Martin says the “Primates” do, have found a way to feel rewarded and purposeful in their families.

But this is just another way for people who already think a lot of themselves to attach a cute term of valuation to their names — a way for them to mark and brand themselves as exceptional among the already exceptional.

A way to float the books.

One thing I think is fun to consider, though, is what the terms of a Husband Bonus would look like.

Just think about the reams of paper that contract would require.

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