A week ago, the New York Times revealed that some women on the Upper East Side were receiving “wife bonuses”.
A wife bonus is just what it sounds like. A wife is given a nice year-end chunk of cash for performing her wifely duties. For instance, “how well she managed the home budget, whether the kids got into a ‘good’ school” said the NYT.
This, predictably led to outrage. But guess what?
The “wife bonus” is completely defensible!
A marriage is an equitable joining of two people for their mutual benefit. Traditionally, this has meant a splitting of duties — he’s the farmer, she’s the cook, etc.
We live in a society where, like it or not, most women are the default parents and do most of the household chores. In a traditional household, the wife picks up these duties full time and is unpaid, leaving the husband free to venture out into the workforce and provide monetarily for his family. This has ceased to be true in many households, but still happens a lot at the upper echelons of the income spectrum, where a single individual can make more than enough to provide a luxurious life for a family, but often needs to spend long hours at the office.
One parent working and one doing the unpaid upkeep of the house and kids is unfair and too-often split down typical gender lines, but it’s not economically irrational.
If this is the way your household works, a wife bonus makes good sense. The wife is doing a significant amount keeping the family running, and she deserves her equal share of the family income. And then something extra at the end of the year.
The counterargument is that a joint account is just as equitable, without the uncomfortable feeling that the husband is the “boss” of his wife, doling out money as he sees fit. The key is not to see the relationship as that between a boss and an employee, but between two profit-sharing partners. Her share of the profits should be negotiated when the two decide that she will stop working, and likely renegotiated as things like children and extra houses come up (we’re talking rich people here — second, third, and fourth houses need to be taken care of).
A joint account is its own psychological minefield. There’s a tendency for the working partner to believe that he has more of a right to determine how it’s spent, because he made it. A wife bonus can cut down on that mentality. Polly Phillips explains in the New York Post:
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.
Running a household is a job. It’s time women were compensated for it. This isn’t the perfect solution, but it’s not as irrational as it seems at first glance.
And, frankly, if a wife doesn’t ger her bonus at the end of the year, it might be time to look for another gig somewhere else.