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Does the “wife bonus” really exist?

Some Upper East side moms are skeptical

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(Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

In Sunday’s New York Times, Wednesday Martin claims to blow the lid off a certain set of fashionable, hedge-fund dependent Upper East Side wives with children. It’s a group with whom she spent six years socializing at the playground and in other casual settings—an experience Martin, who holds a BA in anthropology, describes as “fieldwork.” (The Op-Ed springs from her provocative new memoir, Primates of Park Avenue.)

According to Martin, the ”Glam SAHMs,” or “glamorous stay-at-home moms,” as she calls them, run their homes like chief executives, wear designer clothes to school drop-off and hang out exclusively in single-sex groups.

Martin’s most outrageous claim—instantly picked up by New York, Gawker and Quartz, not to mention the British press—is that the husbands of these women hand out annual, formalized “wife bonuses,” reflecting a recipient’s performance as a mother, household manager and sex partner. The wife bonus is “not an uncommon practice in this tribe,” Martin writes, and “might be hammered out in a pre-nup or post-nup.”

Journalists have reacted with skepticism, however.

And many members of the reading public are not buying it—especially those in the so-called tribe itself.

Users of the online forum “UrbanBaby,” a New York-based blog popular with Upper East Side mothers, doubted the facts presented in the piece. By Monday afternoon, UrbanBaby stay-at-home moms—or “UB SAHMs”—were debating the veracity of Martin’s “wife bonus” claim on multiple threads:

“Bonuses are not standard…This is all made up”

“I think the writer is making it up”

“This whole article is so full of shit”

“I think some very clever SAHMs got together and were very mean about spinning a story for this writer, who seems totally clueless”

“More RHONY [Real Housewives of New York]
than anthropology”

“I’m calling B.S. on that…Maybe ONE insane couple functions this way”

One plausible explanation is that one of Martin’s subjects used the term “wife bonus” as a joke, and not to reveal an open secret of Upper East Side marriages. Hard to argue, though, since Martin pre-emptively discounts any deniers by writing that women’s “demurring” on the issue is merely “proof to an anthropologist that a topic is taboo, culturally loaded and dense with meaning.”

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