Marielle Jan de Beur often catches the 6:27 am train to Grand Central Terminal, waiting on the Westchester platform with a swarm of dark-suited men, and then walks 10 blocks to a Park Avenue office. When the elevator lets her off at Wells Fargo, she enters another zone, where the gender dynamic that has long underpinned the financial industry is quietly being challenged. Jan de Beur and some of her colleagues rely on support that growing numbers of women on Wall Street say is enabling them to compete with new intensity: a stay-at-home husband.
In an industry still dominated by men with only a smattering of women in its highest ranks, these bankers make up a small but rapidly expanding group, benefitting from what they call a direct link between their ability to achieve and their husbands’ willingness to handle the domestic duties. The number of women in finance with stay-at-home spouses has climbed nearly tenfold since 1980, according to an analysis of census data, and some of the most successful women in the field are among them.
These marriages are Wall Street-specific experiments in money, work, family and power. In interviews, dozens of couples provided field notes. Many discovered that even with baby-sitting and household help, the demands of working in finance made a two-career marriage impossible. The arrangement can be socially isolating, they said. The couples told of new questions of marital etiquette, like who makes the big financial decisions or buys the wife’s jewellery when she makes upward of a million dollars a year and the husband earns little or nothing.
Half a century ago, Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique not far from where some of the female bankers live today. Even though their husbands have had far different experiences and options than Friedan’s frustrated 1960s housewives, they sometimes express similar sentiments. Some wonder what has come of their education, confess that they do not know how to make their way back to work after what they had hoped would be a temporary break, or admit that they do not quite understand their wives’ work. Others have turned themselves