Is Autonomy the New Money?

egalitarian marriages, celebrity marriages, how to make marriage work, two career marriages, flexibility, manhood

What does Jay-Z offer Beyoncé that men can offer the women they hope to marry?

One of my best friends and I both got engaged this year. We were talking about money recently. Men buy engagement rings, and then help pay for weddings. That’s traditional. What’s new is that we are marrying women who have the same discretionary income as we do: in fact, some of them are positioned to out-earn us in a lifetime. For some of us whose mothers earned only a fraction of their fathers’ incomes, it raises a question.

What can men offer women today to enhance their financial futures? If it’s not money any more, perhaps it’s autonomy.

Consider Jay-Z and Beyoncé. Beyoncé was a big star when she met Jay-Z, and often earns more than he does (based on published data). If you factor in Jay-Z’s income from his many business ventures, you still can’t deny that she earns more than enough for herself. So why would she want to marry someone because of his/her money?

Here’s an idea. What if now that women earn lots of money, they need the same thing that our mothers provided for our fathers so long ago? Stay-at-home wives (common in the past) have tremendous autonomy. They cook when they want, clean when they want, and can train their children into whatever routines they choose. Maybe today’s men should start early to build that kind of autonomy from their careers.

Maybe men and women should consider that the way careers work, autonomy is worth more than money.

Jay-Z probably never has to spend a dime personally on Beyoncé. But her career sure benefits from his ability to fly accross the world to visit her when she’s on a global tour. Think about it—even if she paid for the private jet every time, he still has to get permission from his boss to telecommute or reschedule meetings. Oh—wait, he is his own boss.

Women’s careers are often at risk after they have children, because they are the primary caregivers in their families. What if their husbands could help? We already know many women don’t want stay-at-home dads so the man has to be secure enough in a position that he can sometimes be late because the babysitter called in sick. It can’t just be her…not every single time.

Maybe men and women should consider that the way careers work, autonomy is worth more than money. As long as one person has autonomy, the other person can achieve without leaving family behind. Women used to do this for men by staying at home, and today men can do it for women without staying at home. What do you think?

Read more on Money on The Good Life.

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About Albert Okagbue

Albert has devoted his life to understanding money and wealth, especially how they mix with culture. He writes Studentloancpa.com and is the author of Stop Budgeting Start Living: How to Sync Your Money and Your Life. He is a licensed Certified Public Accountant and has a Tax & Financial Planning practice in Houston.

Comments

  1. LukeInDetroit says:

    Albert

    This all sounds good, in a pie in the sky, idealist sort of way…but there are outside pressures on couples/families that make autonomy in the modern economic climate damn near impossible for anyone not incredibly privileged or fortunate. These are the type of BS self help articles that give GMP a bad name. “just give each other more autonomy” like its that simple. Please. “yea sure let me just find a job that pays a middle class salary with proper benefits and allows me to be at home or travel whenever I feel like it. Plenty of those laying around”

    • Albert The Student Loan CPA says:

      Luke,

      Maybe you went wrong when you put the word “job” together with “middle class salary”. The median household income in America is around $50K. If a woman could reliably earn $40K with benefits, and her husband could earn as much or even half that with autonomy, the ideas in this article would be achieved.

      The question is whether you are prepared to earn less than your spouse, while offering her MORE in other ways. What’s your answer?

      • LukeInDetroit says:

        Albert

        I guess I just think that the target audience for this article is probably middle class to upper class people. For them, giving up some money often means gaining autonomy. For working class and poor folks it’s quite the opposite. Just feel like we need to be conscious of these classic dynamics and the lens we are looking from before we start asking people to give up some income.

        And to answer your question, yes, I would be willing to. In fact, my fiance and I have talked about this, and there is a strong likelihood that something similar will happen.

        • Luke, don’t you think you’re going a bit too far in defining a target audience for an article you did not write? Unless you are talking about poor people who will be poor forever, then no – this article is for everyone. It only takes two people making $25K per year to have a household above the median income in the U.S. $25K a year is a little over $12 per hour. You’re still not responding directly to the idea of whether a working woman will benefit more from a man’s money or his autonomy….then again, you just did. In your own life, that seems to be the case.

          • LukeInDetroit says:

            Albert

            Let me be clear. I agree with you. People should be more concerned with autonomy and less concerned with making and extra few thousand dollars a year.

            That being said. I don’t think it’s that simple for people making, as per your example, 25K a year. For them, giving up some money often results in less autonomy, because the ability to be flexible….costs money. Additionally, sacrificing a full time job normally means sacrificing all benefits.

            • Thanks for the comment Luke.

              Consider this: An artist would only have to sell 100 pieces of art for $250 each to earn that amount. How many more pieces would he have to sell to cover health insurance? Retirement savings? You can substitute “Artist” for “Janitor”, “Tax Preparer”, and so on.

              I’m not sure what sacrifices you’re referring to — especially in the case of someone with a spouse.

  2. You’re using the example of two very wealthy people as your example of how more autonomy will help your average couple? ok.

  3. wellokaythen says:

    I can see the larger point here, though it’s going to be hard to get it across to all the people just trying to keep their heads above water.

    I know some workaholics who have made a ton of money working in the software industry. They are very well off and even have trouble figuring out what to do with all their wealth. Meanwhile, they still work 70-80 hour weeks and take no vacation time and have very little time for anything but work. Their marriages and families are often in bad shape because they are no-shows at home. They have lots of money but very little enjoyment of life. Their pursuit of their paychecks have actually undermined the quality of their lives.

    But, not many people have that kind of choice to make – should I cut down on my working hours so I can enjoy life a little more, or should I try to keep making as much money as I do? Easy call when you’re wealthy, not so easy for the rest of us. There’s a minimum threshold you have to reach before you can think to yourself, “maybe I’m too worried about money and not thinking about autonomy.”

    I have a comfortable salary that gives me some autonomy and puts me in the middle of the middle class, though I live in a very expensive city. I have a good balance, so in that way I’m very fortunate. I assume I’m more fortunate that I want to admit to myself. Every year around April 15th I do envy those Microsoft millionaires, but I’ve never envied people who feel the need to work 60 hours a week.

    • Wellokaythen, thanks for seeing my point. The challenge of choosing between money and time isn’t really a challenge for people who understand (a) that money is far more abundant than time and (b) that there will always be opportunities to make money (unlike your child’s childhood). The people you describe are making the default choice, and that choice does not reflect an understanding of these things.

      Many people who make a lot of money have a lot of autonomy, but if they haven’t had it from the beginning (or been able to cash it in), they probably won’t know what to do with time away from work. We see this with CEOs all the time. By the time most people become CEO’s of major companies, they are rich. So why take on more work? Because they might not have anything else in their life worth doing (other than work). Food for thought.

  4. One thing to note: Jay Z’s net worth is approximately $500 Million while Beyonce comes in around $300 Million. The guy just bought her an island. Beyonce probably has more autonomy than Jay Z given the fact that he’s got to manage approximately $200 MM more than she does. (such a problem to have but when you’re that rich it takes a heck of a lot of effort and smarts to keep/grow it)

    In my experience- women [[usually]] look for men who are their equals or superiors in terms of earning power. There are a couple of sahd’s in my neighborhood but they are outnumbered by the sahm’s 10:1 easily. 1 of the 2 sahd’s used to out earn his wife but when the home construction industry crashed he mothballed his company to pull his kid out of daycare for a few years while things recovered. It made more financial sense for their family. When you look at the 2 income couples men who out earn their wives outnumber the higher earning women by about 3:1. Pretty much everyone is well educated. The highest earners are a lawyer (guy), a surgeon (guy), a corporate exec (guy), a b2b salesman (guy) and a business owner (yep, you guessed it- another guy).

    I’m a sole earner (consultant)- I spend more time with my kids than my dad did by a long shot. I cannot tell you how many times I have kids home with me while I was working while my wife took one to an activity or ran an errand- talk about competing priorities. Try maintaining an image of utmost professionalism and capability when you’ve got a barking dog and an angry 4 year old pounding on your office door.

    • Congrats on being able to pull of a business operation with an angry 4 year-old and a dog. You are living the epitome of autonomy and it certainly comes at a price. However you’re doing it, so I don’t need to convince you that it can be done.

      I disagree with your comment about effort required to manage $300 million, because that is enough money to hire all the people that will lose sleep in running enterprises. I would also say that women don’t necessarily know what a MAN looks like, so what they look for is irrelevant. This article is about what we plan to offer them — what we have is all they’ll get.

  5. Will Best says:

    Well for starters Jay-Z helped launch her solo career, and has probably been a constant source of valuable advice in managing her affairs since. He also is a mega millionaire in his own right, business savvy, highly intelligent, and quite frankly more accomplished than she is even if she has the spotlight.

    In fact, the couple lends evidence to the general idea that women, no matter how accomplished, want men to take care of them. Beyonce could land nearly any man she wanted and she chose a man with more ambition and more drive than her.

    • Everything you say is true, but much of it wouldn’t be possible if he wasn’t autonomous. If Jay-Z was on someone else’s label from the beginning, he would have been playing by someone else’s rules.

      Your point about women wanting men to take care of them might be better thought of as “take care of their business affairs” – at least in that case. This brings me back to the old format of working man and stay-at-home wife. You can say the same about those men too – and the person they relied on was also highly autonomous.

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