Wednesday Martin is an anthropologist who is currently studying the natives of the Upper East Side of Manhattan. She and her family are living amongst the locals, trying to integrate into tribal life in order to better understand them. Martin has discovered a unique phenomenon among the elite mothers there: wife bonuses. These are annual financial incentives that mothers earn from their husbands in exchange for reaching certain performance benchmarks. Martin writes in the New York Times:
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.
I read Martin's article when it came out 2 weeks ago. I considered posting it at Neatorama, but passed because the story seemed to fanciful to be real. But now a woman who earns a wife bonus has come forward to confirm the story. Polly Phillips, the wife of a wealthy petroleum engineer, writes in the New York Post that she earns every penny of her wife bonus. Most recently, she spent her bonus on new shoes:
These pricey pairs of designer footwear will join a lineup of Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnik, Diane Von Furstenburg and Rupert Sanderson heels and a closet crammed with handbags from Prada, Chanel and Anya Hindmarch. Every single one was bought with one of my annual bonuses — the nod from a happy boss for a job well done.
But, in this case, the boss in question is my husband, Al. The role he’s rewarding me for is my work as a stay-at-home wife and mother. And the luxury labels are purchased with the “wife bonus” — 20 percent of his own company bonus — that I’m proud to receive for putting his career before my own, and keeping our lives together.
After all, he readily admits that, without me staying at home with our 19-month-old daughter, Lala — not to mention the support and understanding I offer when his work intrudes on our home life — he couldn’t do his job. And he also knows that if we hadn’t followed his career abroad, I might still be doing very well in my own.
Phillips does insist that her bonus isn't tied to her activity. It's just a fixed portion of her husband's bonus. I'd like to hear from one of the moms that told Wednesday Martin about her wife bonus.