Tuesday Trends: the Nannies of the 1%

NYT Mag’s Adam Davidson Hails ‘Trophy Nanny’ as 1% Status Symbol
The 1% Whisperer strikes again, this time with a clueless view of domestic workers.

Photo Credit: shutterstock
In his role as the Lord Haw-Haw of yawning income disparity, Adam Davidson reports on the world of elite nannies in his latest New York Times piece, “The Best Nanny Money Can Buy.” Child caregivers perceived to be good enough for the superrich (which means they might need to possess other skills, like speaking Mandarin, cooking restaurnt-level meals, being able to ride and groom horses or sailing) make big bucks!
Davidson interviews one Muneton, who comes from a “very poor” background in São Paulo. She immediately convinces Davidson that she is very good at doing what adults think would be fun for kids (in fairness, she does have stellar references). Muneton, who works through an agency, gets $180,000 a year, plus accommodations, plus a bonus. The family presumably pays the agency a fee, and one assumes is also covering payroll taxes.
The article makes clear that top nannies are ‘positional’ goods. Discussing the industry with Cliff Greenhouse, president of the Pavilion Agency, Davidson writes:
“Alas, it seems that there just aren’t enough ‘good’ nannies, always on call, to go around….
And then there’s social climbing. ‘A lot of families, especially new money, are really concerned about their children getting close to other very affluent children,’ Greenhouse says. ‘How do they do that? They find a superstar nanny who already has lots of contacts, lots of other nanny friends who work with other high profile families.’ There are the intangibles too. ‘I’m working with a phenomenal Caribbean nanny right now,’ Greenhouse says. ‘She is drop-dead beautiful. Her presentation is such that you’re proud to have her by your children’s side at the most high-profile events.’
Davidson mentions but underplays the “always on call” part:
“A typical high-priced nanny effectively signs her (and they are almost always women) life over to the family she works for. According to Cliff Greenhouse, Pavillion’s president, that kind of commitment is essentially built into the price. Many clients are paying for the privilege of not having to worry about their child’s care, which means never worrying if their nanny has plans. Which, of course, she can’t, pretty much ever.”
Let’s consider what Muneton actually makes. Let us charitably assume she works 80 hours a week, which is what being a live in and being always on call amounts to (aside: the article says she has her own apartment, but given that it’s on Central Park West which is awfully scarce on rentals, I suspect this is the market value of a particularly nice studio or one bedroom that was carved out of one of the large apartments. The first apartment I bought was just such a CPW one bedroom and I had a studio apartment next door. These odd apartments, when they’d come up, used to be bid on by neighbors and usually integrated back into the big units; I infer they now might be spruced up and used to house the high ticket nannies).
New York State, where Muneton works, has a nanny law that stipulates time and a half for overtime. She also gets a bonus but I saw no mention of vacation.
But let’s assume 50 weeks at what would be charged as 100 hours (note under the New York law, overtime pay for live-ins doesn’t start till 44 hours a week, but Muneton may not qualify, given her supposedly separate apartment, and in any event, her elite status suggests she should be compared with ordinary workers). My calculator says she gets $36 an hour, which is more than double what Davidson says is the going rate for part-time nannies in Brooklyn ($15 to $18 an hour). That’s a handsome premium but hardly spectacular. The impressive total results in large measure from the fact that she racks up so many hours. And she can bank it all because she doesn’t pay rent.