The modern trophy wife

I’m over at CBS MoneyWatch this week blogging about the new wedding of the year, the Mark Zuckerberg-Priscilla Chan nuptials out in Palo Alto this past weekend. The wedding was cool for many reasons. One of them, as Helaine Olen pointed out in her Forbes blog, is that these billionaires didn’t spend like billionaires. Rather than ratcheting up the wedding industrial complex, they toned it down.

But I also think that the marriage says a lot about how society is changing. Once upon a time, people spouted the phrase “men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.” The idea was that being smart and studious was a net liability for a woman. High-flying men wouldn’t be interested in women with advanced degrees or degrees from too-prestigious places. But the modern billionaire is marrying a woman with a Harvard undergraduate degree and their friends came to their wedding under the pretense of celebrating her graduation from medical school. Though I don’t think Chan is taking Zuckerberg’s name, I smile every time I see the phrase “Mr. and Dr. So and So.”

There are, perhaps, some inefficiencies in marriages that involve two people who have careers they actually care about. But on the whole, I think having a smart and successful spouse is a net asset in one’s own professional life — even if you’re an ambitious man in an old school industry. As I mention in my CBS MoneyWatch blog, a gentleman once told me he lived near his clients because it was important to have “the wives” networking in the community — an idea that Megan Bashman talks about in her 2008 book, Beside Every Successful Man (which, from my review, you can probably see is the book that irked me most that I’ve read in the past 4 years). But these days, many of those clients are female, which means that “the wives” scheming together in the grocery store is just no longer a viable concept. A successful, smart spouse is a more interesting party guest. She/he broadens your professional network. And she/he likely has expertise that can complement your own. That’s hard to develop if his or her whole purpose in life is just to support your career. 

Zuckerberg and Chan have been together a long time, and during much of that, it was pretty clear that Facebook would deliver astonishing riches to its young founder. But with that in the background, Chan went to medical school, which is not known for being a walk in the park. That’s the modern trophy wife — beautiful (of course), but also brilliant, and willing to invest a great deal of time in building her own career. The modern, ambitious young man doesn’t believe he needs a wife fully dedicated to advancing him. He wants a wife with her own life — and I think that’s absolutely grand.


9 thoughts on “The modern trophy wife

  1. I get the point you’re trying to make, but I think the term “trophy wife” is pretty demeaning to use here.

    You wouldn’t use it if Mark Z was just a regular Harvard grad working at say, Google. Why does the fact that he’s rich mean that his college girlfriend is suddenly now a “trophy wife”?

  2. I’m using it in the sense that it’s a common phrase — not demeaning. The spouse a guy is proud to point to is an accomplished woman.

  3. I’m taking more of a “wait and see” attitude.

    What holds women back are the challenges of childcare and marginal tax rates for “middle income” ($100k-$250k) dual professional couples. I doubt that she will work 70 hr weeks when they have children, that she will have to make choices she doesn’t want to pay back student loans or that she’ll be poor if the marriage doesn’t work out.

    I’m happy for the people in these situations, but they don’t apply to women like me, trapped because of geography and industry changes.

  4. Just found your site, and I have to say I am giddy to see you have another book. I’m currently listening to 168 Hours on mp3 through my library while I pull up carpet staples. My hubby and I buy sad, yucky houses and make them happy, pretty ones :). It’s been a joy and really inspiring to listen to your book. Can’t wait to go find the money one! You are an incredible author.


    1. @Western Warmth – glad you’re enjoying 168 Hours, and I hope it makes pulling out carpet staples more pleasant! Please do check out All the Money in the World, and thanks for stopping by the blog.

  5. I agree with this Laura but also the idea that of the 2 she will have to make the sacrifices (which is unfair they should both equally feel this burden if she is a hardvard educated dr)
    when they have kids if she does not want a nanny or not her raising the kids… She can still be wildly successful but it is it’s own new kind of juggle and feminism certainly hasn’t completely addressed this issue…
    working mother magazine does profiles every month and I like seeing how other women do it. this month it is a woman who is a lawyer and partner at a law firm whose husband is self employed and stops work at like 4 or so … she gets up at 5 to exercise, works 9 to 5 and then gets back in bed with email from 8 to 11…. and sleeps from what I can tell 6 hours.. would love to see you review that profile every month and see what you and other women have to say about it… in this case I noticed her husband probably shared more child care than mine does, her sleep schedule would nto be enough sleep for me and the getting back into bed with emails and working like that would not be my ideal.. i prefer to get up at 5 and work but that is why I havent been able to get exercise back into my life right after baby #2..

    1. the profile also made me admire her, notice her kids were a little older than mine, mine have no bed time and also made me realize I am suited to my life as small business owner entrepreneur but would not have been suited to life at a big law firm..

    2. @Cara- an interesting question here – if money is no object, what dynamic plays out in a marriage with children? I think one issue that might arise is that people have different ideas of how much time it is appropriate to spend with one’s offspring. I think parental time with kids is valuable, so from that perspective, time my husband has the kids is “free” for me to do other things in a way that time they are with a sitter is not (relatives are in between).

      1. yes agreed.. and it would be interesting to how supportive spouse and relatives help a woman’s revenue line if employed etc. I know there are some things I cut back on (nothing directly most important on revenue line) but definitely some things I should be doing — such as nightime networking .. b/c I just won’t leave my kids with grandma at night if they’ve been with her all day .. unless my husband will take them .. which sometimes he will but mostly he won’t.. i’m ok with this but i know it could affect my revenue.. then again this is why moms are among the most efficient entrepreneurs.. I do not fool around too much ..

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