Jeff Bezos’ Wife, MacKenzie, Isn’t ‘Walking Away’ With ‘His’ Money
Any person who cares for children and the stuff of home is providing an essential service that benefits the entire family, and that needs to be acknowledged, respected and rewarded
The announcement that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, are divorcing after 25 years and the discovery that he’s been having an affair with pilot and former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez, complete with sordid details of his sexts to her has created a media frenzy. I don’t care about the private conversations between two consenting adults. What I do care about is how MacKenzie is being portrayed — as a woman who “could soon be one of the wealthiest women in the world” once she and Bezos split.
MacKenzie Bezos actually is one of the wealthiest women in the world right now because “his” wealth is “their” wealth. You wouldn’t know that from the the inappropriately gendered portrayals in the media, however.
The couple married before Amazon was founded in 1994, and according to the laws in the state of Washington, where they live, all assets acquired during a marriage can be split equally.
But the way their impending divorce is written about — such as CNBC’s declaration that “it’s possible that MacKenzie could walk away from their divorce with half of her husband’s net worth, or about $66 billion” — makes it appear as if only Jeff created that wealth and MacKenzie is “walking away” with something that, presumably, she didn’t earn.
And therein lies the problem. A big problem.
Marriage, the ‘wealth builder’
Conservatives like to talk about how marriage is a wealth builder, but whose wealth are we talking about? It would be both spouses, right? Right, because they are both contributing toward that nest egg.
But when a couple splits, all of a sudden one spouse — typically the woman in heterosexual unions — is somehow seen as “walking away” with her “husband’s net worth” or someone who will be “awarded one of the largest divorce settlements to date” as if she had nothing at all to do with that wealth building
Except she most certainly does.
MacKenzie Bezos’ contributions
So let’s explore how MacKenzie has contributed to the Bezos household wealth.
First of all, she helped draft Amazon’s business plan, was the company’s first accountant and helped to transform it from the small online bookseller it started as to the behemoth it is today.
She’s also written a few novels, which — lets be real — rarely make a middling author wealthy. So perhaps the biggest contribution MacKenzie has made to the Bezos household is being mom to their four teenaged children — an adopted daughter from China and three sons presumably their own, whose names and ages have been kept private.
And that was something Jeff himself treasured, according to Vogue:
“Family is very important to Jeff, and he absolutely relies on her to create that stable home life. They are such a normal, close-knit family, it’s almost abnormal.” Creating stable, close-knit families takes a lot of time and effort; so does writing complex, richly detailed novels. The real reason MacKenzie’s first novel took ten years to write was not laziness — her husband can recall waking up on many a vacation to find his wife in the hotel bathroom, tapping away on her computer. The novel took as long as it did because she decided to put her writing on ice after her children were born, a painful but necessary bow to the reality of human limitations. … It would have been easy to hire a flock of nannies to take care of the kids, but that was never her parenting style. In fact, over the years, she and Jeff have intermittently experimented with homeschooling. “We tried all sorts of things,” she says, “including off-season travel, kitchen-science experiments, chicken incubation, Mandarin lessons, the Singapore math program, and lots of clubs and sports with other neighborhood kids.
Clearly, MacKenzie’s parenting made it easy for Jeff to be the kind of successful businessman most of us see him as.
A woman’s labor matters
And now that they’re divorcing, it’s important to value MacKenzie’s contributions to the family equally to her husband’s. Which is why no one should frame their divorce settlement as something she’s “walking away” with or being “awarded.” She would just be collecting the fair share of her labor to make the Bezos household work.
As Jill Filipovic writes:
What divorces like these show us is how little we value the often invisible and unpaid labor that so many women do to enable their husbands to build wealth and find professional success. We live in a capitalist country, and so we measure value with dollar figures. By that measure, Jeff Bezos is the more valuable member of the Bezos pair, and the one whose contributions to the family, which total in the billions, are more significant. It’s true that financially, Jeff contributed more than a 50% share. But would he have been able to have a stable, happy family and build a prosperous company without the work of his wife?
No, he wouldn’t. And that work needs to be acknowledged, respected and rewarded.
Why couples need a marital plan
The Bezos didn’t have a prenup because, well, why would they? They didn’t have much when they married 25 years ago and most people, then and now, see prenups as something only wealthy people want and need, and is basically planning for a divorce.
Wrong on all accounts.
Here’s why prenups — or marital planning, which is how I prefer to see it — matter: Couples can shape their partnerships and acknowledge, respect and reward the unpaid labor of love, no matter who is doing it.
Since it often is women who do that unpaid labor, it’s essential that we get rid of the language of divorce that sees women as “walking away” with or being “awarded” something, with the unstated assumption that she doesn’t deserve it, that she somehow didn’t contribute to the success of the family unit, including the breadwinner’s success.
Any person who cares for children and the stuff of home is providing an essential service that benefits the entire family. That service not only needs to be acknowledged and respected, but also rewarded if that family changes its form. Actually, it needs to be acknowledged, respected and — especially — rewarded in intact families.
But that’s another blog post for another day.
Want to know how to create a marital plan? (Of course you do!) Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.
Originally published at omgchronicles.vickilarson.com