I began to notice something about these guys I worked with. First of all, many of them occupied a certain strata on the company’s organizational chart. They were frequently in middle management or among senior leadership. In other words, they were more than a few steps above the entry-level or lower-paid roles, and they enjoyed more visibility, respect and opportunity than they might have otherwise in lesser, more transactional roles.
Secondly, these men seemed not to be distracted by many domestic concerns. They rarely talked about any work / life interferences. They were not the guys who needed to leave work because their wife had to work overtime, or was stuck in traffic, or was away traveling for her own job. They were able to tend to their jobs in a laser-focused way that gave the impression that everything at home was absolutely running smoothly, to the extent it never traversed that all-too-fine line into their work lives.
Thirdly, these guys seemed to advance quickly. One guy might be hired as a manager, and then less than two years later, he would have been promoted to a senior manager or director. Sure, these guys may have been smart, talented and beyond capable. They might have produced several successes, saved the company money or introduced an entirely innovative new way of doing something. However, I worked with more than a few smart people – many of whom were not promoted, mentored or eyed for advancement. But these guys were part of an unofficial “crew” of high-potential men who happened to reap the most obvious rewards of the Corporatocracy.
And their wives were not working full-time jobs outside the home.
It turns out that when I made these observations years ago, I was onto something. In Beside Every Successful Man by Meghan Basham, she writes about the “magical marriage premium.” She breaks it down like this:
Let’s say Larry and Moe have the same job and the same level of education and experience, and work the same number of hours with the same results. The only difference between them is that Larry is married. Statistically, Larry will earn considerably more than Moe – as much as 20 to 50 percent more. In terms of real dollars, this means that while Moe makes only $50,000 annually, Larry is making $60,000 or even $75,000. That is the power a wife just naturally has on a man’s income.
Moreover, it’s just marriage alone that accounts for the premium. It’s also tied to the wife’s employment status. Basham goes further, explaining:
As a woman’s working hours increase, the amount of marriage premium her husband reaps decreases. One study found that men whose wives aren’t employed earn an average of 31 percent more than single men, but for men whose wives have full-time jobs, that number drops to 3.4 percent. Other research has shown that the premium disappears altogether when a man’s spouse works full time.
The hypotheses about what wives bring to the table that, in turn, helps their husbands earn more money have been weighed in ways both quantitative and qualitative. For example, she offloads the burden of many household or domestic burdens from her husband, so they are not split 50/50 or even shared much at all in some cases. If she coordinates repairmen or contractors, or manages all of the children’s appointments, or chauffeurs said kids to various activities, that represents time, effort and energy the husband is not forced to divide or defer from work. Additionally, men often consult with their wives for advice as they download the day’s activities and news with them. In fact, through multiple examples in her book, Basham interviews many executives who mention their wives’ input as central to their decision-making process in matters of business.
Interestingly, women do not experience or benefit from a “marriage premium.” Basham writes, “Married working women accrue almost no marriage premium regardless of how much or how little their spouses work.”