The Rise Of The “Sugar Mamma”

by Manisha Thakor

 Sug·ar Mam·ma- noun

A woman who is in the financial driver’s seat of her life

Watching the season finale of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire last night, I was struck afresh by how far we women have come. This show depicts life in Atlantic City during the Prohibition Era. There is one scene in particular that I can’t get out of my head. It’s when the lovely young widow, Mrs. Margaret Schroeder, finds a mini “tattered rag” in her piece of holiday cake while her friend receives the toy “wedding ring.” The tattered rag was a superstitious symbol that she would end up old and poor. Not long after Mrs. Schroeder chose to place herself in the arms of the corrupt, but rich and powerful, crime boss Nucky Thompson – the very man who had her husband killed to begin with (TV, sigh, it’s complicated). What jumped out at me was the emotional pain with which this smart, ambitious mother of two concluded that in an era of limited work opportunities for women, the only way to keep her family afloat was to take up with a “Sugar Daddy.” 

By contrast, in modern America there have been a number of news stories of late highlighting the rise of the female breadwinner. It started with The Shriver Report pointing out that even though women still earn $0.77 on the dollar (big grumble), nearly 4 out of 10 working mothers are the primary breadwinners in their households. When you add in working mothers who are co-breadwinners the number tops 6 out of 10.  A New York Magazine article entitled Alpha Women, Beta Men colorfully describes some of the havoc wrought by this trend while a recent Reuters piece on The Female-Breadwinner Model focuses on how to make the most of it. 

As more and more women find themselves by choice or life circumstances as the primary or co-breadwinner in their households, I’ve noticed a new trend. I’m calling it “The Rise Of The Sugar Mamma.” I define the modern “Sugar Mamma” as a woman who wants to be in the financial driver’s seat of her life. She views money as a tool that gives her a voice and increases her life choices. She likes earning an income because it gives her control and the freedom to create the life that makes her heart sing.  She may be single, married, a mother, or childless but the common denominator is a desire to learn how to live her life from a position of financial strength.

Now, if this sounds like I’m stuck in the 1960s, spend a few moments reading a few of the 122 Amazon reviews of one of my all time favorite books, Leslie Bennett’s The Feminine Mistake. The hardcover version came out in March 2007… before all economic heck broke lose. Women either adored – or hated – the book’s premise, that by ignoring the economic consequences of lifestyle choices, we women are putting ourselves in long-term financial danger. I can’t help but wonder what the naysayers would say today in the face of all the painful upheaval brought about by the economic downturn.

In response to the increase in women who are primary or co-breadwinners, I am renaming my blog “The Sugar Mamma Chronicles,” and will focus on providing personal finance information (and inspiration!) to working women who want to put themselves in the financial drivers seat of their lives.  My first tip for aspiring Sugar Mammas… read Leslie’s wonderful book

Founder of the Women’s Financial Literacy Initiative, you can follow Manisha on Twitter at @ManishaThakor and on Facebook at /MThakor.

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