Wife bonuses: real or a clever publicity hoax?


Wife bonuses? Really?

That was my thought after reading Wednesday Martin’s brilliant New York Times plug, Poor Little Rich Women, for her forthcoming book, Primates of Park Avenue.

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…

I initially read the piece with the clinical interest of someone who also has a forthcoming book and will be publicizing it in the months ahead. My first thought was that Martin had stumbled upon and skillfully exploited publicity gold; could there be anything more fraught then the idea of paying sophisticated, highly educated, wealthy stay at home mothers a wife bonus for services rendered? Sure enough, today’s papers and blogs are filled with commentary on wife bonuses, and, therefore, even more publicity for Martin and her book.

There’s just one problem. I can’t find any evidence that Martin’s claim is real.

I happen to be a member of the demographic that Martin is describing, women with advanced degrees who stay home while their husbands are remunerated at high powered jobs. Admittedly I’ve never lived on Park Avenue, nor do I hobnob with the ultra-rich, but I’m acquainted with bankers and fund managers and I’ve never heard of a wife bonus or anything that could be construed as a wife bonus.

Apparently no one else has ever heard of wife bonuses, either. I can’t find any reference to them on the internet prior to 48 hours ago. According to Danielle Pacquette of The Washington Post Wonk Blog notes that there is no credible research or data that supports the existence of wife bonuses:

The wealthiest couples often foster staggeringly unequal partnerships, said Jacqueline Newman, managing partner at Berkman, Bottger, Newman & Rodd…

The “Wall Street wives,” as Newman calls them, have prenuptial agreements that ensure, say, generous bank accounts funded for living expenses. But they’ve never mentioned a wife bonus, or any contractual reward for the domestic achievements Martin describes.

“The clients I have would be thoroughly offended by that phrase,” Newman said. “They pour so much work into raising their families. They’re in charge of managing the household, all the players involved. Often their husbands travel and don’t want them to work.”


Raoul Lionel Felder, a divorce attorney who has practiced in New York for 50 years … has never encountered a legal version of the wife bonus — and, he said,”Upper East Side women are a specialty.”

Moreover, this is not the first difficult to prove publicity bombshell that Martin has dropped while promoting her book. Back in August 2013, Martin claimed that the wealthy families that she was studying hired disabled people as tour guides to help them cut the famously long lines at Disney World.

insider knowledge that very few have and share carefully,” said social anthropologist Dr. Wednesday Martin, who caught wind of the underground network while doing research for her upcoming book “Primates of Park Avenue.”

“Who wants a speed pass when you can use your black-market handicapped guide to circumvent the lines all together?” she said.

“So when you’re doing it, you’re affirming that you are one of the privileged insiders who has and shares this information.”

Other news outlets found ads on Craigslist for disabled people offering to accompany families to help them cut the lines, but most were freelancers charging far less than the $1000/day claimed by Martin. Moreover, answering ads on Craiglist hardly marks anyone as an insider, let alone a privileged insider as Martin described.

How curious that Martin has claimed to discover not one, but two separate publicity bombshells that aren’t confirmed by other evidence.

I’m a cynical person. I can believe just about anything, including the existence of wife bonuses IF someone presents real evidence, not what they supposedly observed among anonymous friends. Without actual evidence, and no one seems to have any, my cynicism leads me to suspect that Martin may made it up to sell books.

The discussion we should be having is not about wife bonuses among the wealthy, since they don’t exist, but about real and pressing inequities in relationships of everyone else. The real problem is that women who work don’t get paid the same as men who work, not that extraordinarily wealthy women who don’t work might (or might not) get a bonus for staying home.

Extraordinarily wealthy women who stay home are not “poor little rich women,” no matter how many books Martin might sell by pretending they are.