If you are not familiar, “trad wife” is a nickname for saying traditional wife and it refers to a subsection of wives and husbands who live their lives according to a very specific set of rules. Each couple seems to amend the rules for themselves according to what they specifically want from their partnership. But the general rules seem to be:
– Married in a straight relationship.
– The man works the wife does not.
– The man is the head of the household and the final word on all things financial, lifestyle and professional for the family.
– Kids are a part of the plan if not already in the family.
As a money nerd, I wanted to dive into the trad wife movement. But not from a social perspective. I’m not here to tell you to be or to not be a trad wife. I want to explore this from the financial perspective because this kind of an arrangement can be very dangerous and leave you very vulnerable. And it’s something that I think people are not talking about enough.
Additionally, I also need to say before we dive in that I am someone who loves being at home and I love some of the domestic arts. I make my own candles and do most of the cooking in my relationship. Also, I want to learn how to sew and would love to have a garden one day.
This is not about dumping on anyone who is the primary caretaker or homemaker out there in their family in their relationships. I’m not here to belittle anyone. I’m also someone who doesn’t think that I need to give up working or give up access to my own bank account in order to have a garden and trad wives do.
Who is the “trad wife?”
A core part of the trad wife lifestyle is that the man works outside the home and the wife works exclusively inside the home. This is the most important value to the whole dynamic. Trad wives and their husbands often say that this is a return to more traditional values, particularly the 1950s in the United States. During this time, they say women were predominantly homemakers and mothers and men worked outside the home and were the financial power in the household.
But right off the bat, this is wrong. This is an incredibly white view of the 1950s women of color have always worked outside of their own homes, often in the homes of white women as cooks as maids as caretakers for their children.
The trad wife is historically inaccurate
In fact, in 1918, Greenville, South Carolina passed a law that forced Black women to be employed outside of the home, and to carry a labor identification card that stated where they worked that must be produced on demand. This idea that back in the day, ladies were just living their best lives inside the home and never worked outside of it. The idea that only men had jobs is wrong. It’s historically inaccurate. Frankly, it is really demeaning to women of color.
Losing Financial Independence means less freedom, not more.
Losing financial independence means less freedom, not more. Like I said before, I’m not here to judge people who want to stay home. But I am here to question the financial logistics of losing your financial independence– something that a lot of trad wife content creators stress is how little control they have over the family money. They don’t earn any family money. Often they don’t have access to bank accounts and they do not really get to voice their opinions or desires around how family money is spent.
One trad wife on TikTok claims that she doesn’t even leave the house! If I called her up and said, “Susie, you want to go get a coffee meet me at the coffee shop around the corner?” She would have to call her husband at work and say I want to go get a coffee with Kara. Can I do that? Before she would leave the house. That’s obviously an extreme side of this.
It goes to illustrate a point which is that when we cede control of our financial lives, we cede control over the rest of our lives as well. What does that mean for these women? It means that they have no work history, no work references, they don’t have any financial access or accounts in their own name. And that aging will be very difficult for them if they get a divorce or if their husbands pass away.
The social security “safety net”
We have Social Security here in the United States, which is a very thin social program that aims to help people pay for things later in life. The idea with Social Security is you pay into the program in your working years, so that when you are retired, you can withdraw money from the program. How much money you are able to withdraw is tied directly to how long you worked and how much you paid into the program.
People who do not work outside of the home have significantly less access to Social Security than people who do. Now there is an allowance in the program if you are a stay at home wife and your partner works outside of the house. But what if my partner passes away? As his wife, I do get access to his social security benefits. But you have to be married for a certain amount of time in order to access those benefits. Partners who give up their ability to work and their ability to save money in their own name are putting themselves in a very financially precarious position.
Being a trad wife comes with inherent financial risk
Something that I do not see a lot of trad wives addressing is this financial risk and the fact that tying yourself through marriage to someone else is a huge problem. Divorce is very common in the United States and has been since their idealized 1950s. An estimated 43% of first marriages end in divorce. The likelihood of divorce is even higher in subsequent marriages, according to data from the CDC.
Marriage is not a financial plan. It can be part of your financial plan. But it’s not the whole kit ‘n’ caboodle, at least not without a thorough prenup, an understanding of who gets what in the event of a divorce, a will and an estate plan in case your working partner passes away.
Trad wives are actually working
I also find there to be inherent hypocrisy in the trad life movement. Because a lot of these trad wife women are actually working. They are content creators, they are Instagram influencers. They have YouTube channels. They are putting out work and they’re making money off of it, while at the same time saying women shouldn’t work. They have the ability to do this because of the very feminist values that they fight against. Because let’s be clear, life was worse for every woman in the 1950s than it is now,
Marital rape was completely illegal in America in the 1950s. It wasn’t outlawed in every state until 1993. In fact, when it came to prosecuting your husband for physical abuse in the early 1900s, laws that protected women were few and far between. Police would often not make an arrest until the wife’s wound required a certain number of stitches. Too many psychiatrists believed that women provoked their husbands into beating them.
Feminism is responsible for marriage protections
Something that kills me about trad wives is they are so quick to demonize other women and feminism when it is in fact, the rights that feminists have fought for that allow them to a be the content creators that they are today. To have the protections in marriage that they have today. This thing that they are upholding (marriage) that they are so convinced is the number one protection and the number one thing that a woman needs. It’s only a form of protection because feminists fought to include things like protecting women in the legal definition of marriage. The hypocrisy!
Levels of depression and alcoholism were also very high for women in the 1950s. Turns out that locking yourself in the house all day and not having access to be able to pursue your own passions, build your own social life, or spend your own damn money is not healthy for you. Also, what if it doesn’t work out? What if your husband divorces you? Or your husband passes away? What are these trad wives going to do?
The importance of a will and estate plan
What I hope they do is a make sure they are in the will and the estate plan and they are the beneficiary on any investment accounts that their husbands have. Otherwise, a lot of these women who get married young could end up widowed and broke at 30 at 40. I’m not even talking about at 70 or 80. I’m talking about in the prime of your life.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to stay at home, being called to the domestic arts or having a single income household. But what these trad wives promote is dangerous. A complete and total reliance on your husband is dangerous and exclusion of queer families, even from existing is dangerous. It’s really important that if this is something that you want to pursue, you have the financial backing that you need to be safe in the event that your marriage falls apart.
Something that I find incredibly disingenuous about the trad wife movement is that they do not make it clear that it’s okay to live differently than them. The trad wife movement is really firmly ensconced in this belief that they are doing it right and that it is the only way to live. I think it’s fine if you want to live that way. It’s not for me personally, but you don’t see me getting on Tiktok saying every woman needs a job. Every woman needs to have the exact same lifestyle that I, Kara Perez has. Please don’t act as though your choice is the only choice out there.
Financial independence doesn’t have to be sacrificed for a happy marriage
The idea that financial independence has to be sacrificed in order to have a happy marriage is a very dangerous. You do not need to give up access to your own money or control over household finances in order to be a good wife. Any husbands that asks you to do this should be regarded with a level of suspicion. A household is exactly that, a household. It takes two to tango. We have someone who’s working and we have someone who is taking care of the home. Each is contributing to the relationship, and each is contributing to the lifestyle. Each should have the same rights, and the same access to financial stability.
If all of the accounts are in your husband’s name, if all of the work history in your life is in your husband’s name, you could end up in a place that you really don’t want to be. Unfortunately, there are countless stories out there of stay-at-home wives and mothers who were screwed over financially speaking when they did get a later in life divorce. Women who have remained out of the workforce for 10, 20, 30 or even 50 years and now have to go and provide for themselves because their husbands don’t pay alimony or because their husbands don’t give them any kind of settlement.
Women can be financially devastated by divorce
There is a strong misconception in the US that in a divorce a woman walks away with everything, but the facts do not back that up women are often financially devastated by divorce. According to a study published by the US Government Accountability Office, woman’s household income fell by an average of 41% following a divorce while men’s household income fell only by 23%. Putting all your financial eggs in the basket of your working husband does you a disservice. It does you a disservice. Now while everything is hunky dory, and it does you a disservice later if your relationship ends.
It’s important that we talk about these kinds of lifestyle choices from a financial perspective because we live in a world where money touches everything. The more honest we can be about that, the better off I think we all are. If you’re more of a visual learner, feel free to watch the video below for more on trad wives.