Love and Money: March 1980
Take my wife
Henny Youngman’s comic challenge (“Take my wife … please”) turns up these days in a lot of sober business negotiations. Now that working couples are the rule instead of the exception, many a spouse is saying yes to a transfer or a distant job offer only if the employer can find suitable work for his or her mate. “In 70% of the cases where a wife is working,” says John Mirtz, vice president of the executive recruiting firm of Billington Fox & Ellis, “her job is a serious factor in his decision” to take or leave an offer.
Corporate personnel policies are beginning to bend to the trend. A survey by Merrill Lynch Relocation Management Inc. recently found that 30% of companies now help working spouses find jobs; in 1978 only 16% did so. And more than one out of six employees who ultimately say no to relocation offers do it because of their mates’ careers.
Both partners increasingly wind up at the same company. Many employers are relaxing their no-spouse rules, though some still resist, partly in fear of being accused of discriminating against other applicants. A few outfits try avoiding two-job demands by looking for qualified candidates who are divorced.
Employers who do try to help don’t necessarily succeed. “One of the easiest situations to handle is when the second spouse has clerical skills,” says Robert E. Kushell, president of Dunhill Personnel System, a New York-based recruiter. “One of the hardest is when he or she is a teacher. And it’s generally more difficult when the woman is the primary breadwinner.” Kushell tells of a female chemical engineer who was offered a big raise to move from Lafayette, La. to Tulsa. She liked the offer but turned it down when the Tulsa firm couldn’t line up a job for her husband, a football coach.
Get it in writing
On the face of it, the offer was one that a $160-a-week clerk-typist could hardly refuse. “I have been talking to you about this for two years,” wrote Irving Lehat, 52, proprietor of a New York City shipping firm, in a letter to one of his employees, Doreen Romano, 36. “Besides overtime, I will pay you $100…. I can also offer you the possibility of a $25-a- week raise.” But Mrs. Romano did refuse what Lehat’s lawyer later called “a very cordial and generous offer to make love,” and was fired the following month.
Mrs. Romano, a wife and mother, took her case to the New York-based National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, which in turn took it to court, asking $100,000 in damages for sexual harassment—a violation of New York State’s human rights law. Five days before the case was to come to trial, the defendant settled for an undisclosed sum, described by a Civil Liberties Committee spokeswoman as “substantial.” Mrs. Romano’s lawyer, Michael Krinsky, said the outcome “shows that women can fight back and win.” If — he should have added — they are among the rare and lucky ones who get it in writing.
People who marry again and again are hard put to call their worldly goods their own — particularly in community property states like California where mutual possessions are split down the middle at each divorce. Prenuptial agreements are an answer, but a shaky one: many have collapsed in court when tested. So when twice-divorced Richard Herndon, 46, and once-divorced Doris (“Texas”) Wells, 36, both of San Francisco, agreed to wed recently, they determined to forge a pact so persuasively public that it would hold tight even if shaken by the nearby San Andreas fault.
Herndon, a lawyer, drew up a contract that “relinquishes us from any and all claims, causes of action and demands of any kind that are other than physical and spiritual in nature.” He hired a calligrapher to draft the agreement in his-and-hers duplicate and had the result notarized and witnessed by two judges (one of them was Earl Warren Jr., son of the former U.S. Chief Justice and a law school classmate of Herndon’s). Then the couple held a lunch for 27 women— Herndon’s mother, sister, niece, two daughters and 22 ex-girlfriends. Finally, Herndon and Wells, a sometime model and waitress, took out a personal ad on Page One of the New York Times announcing that they had “concluded financial arrangements for their romantic engagement.”
Not for bread alone
Leaders of the women’s movement and their foes seem to be agreed on one thing: the female exodus from home to workplace didn’t happen just out of economic need. To the liberationists, this is good news. It proves that wives and mothers work primarily because they want to. If they don’t need the money, the traditionalists argue back, they shouldn’t leave their families untended. The debate will doubtless drone on, but the figures are in on the basic point: the unprecedented wave of women sweeping into the work force over the past two decades was propelled more by love than by money. Data from the U.S. Labor Department’s Current Population Survey indicate that nearly 60% of the increase in working wives from 1960 to 1977 came from households where husbands had incomes in the upper-middle and upper ranges. There are still more working wives from the poorer half of the population, but they have always tended to toil for pay because they had to.
Editor: Joseph S. Coyle
Then the couple held a lunch for 27 women.