The XX Factor

Did Women Cause Edmund Andrews’ Mortgage Mess?

New York Times reporter Edmund Andrews wrote a doozy of a story in a recent issue of the paper’s magazine, about how he went from a beaming homeowner and newlywed to an anxious debtor who owed hundreds of thousands of dollars on his mortgage. He described the trials and headaches of borrowing and, throughout the story, a basic disbelief that he, a reporter who covers economics , could have been caught up in the same overzealous swindling and poor decision-making that he wrote about for the Times .

His story may have been cause for a lot of rubbernecking and tsk-ing among readers, but Dana Goldstein and Megan McArdle have perhaps hit on the real reason why Andrews had such a hard time: chicks.

Over at TAPPED, Goldstein writes:

The precipitating cause of Andrews’ financial problems were a divorce and a rather hasty second marriage, to a woman named Patty. Andrews and Patty dated bi-coastally for one year before Patty and her 10-year old daughter moved from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. The couple merged their households and bought a half-million-dollar suburban home immediately, despite the fact that Andrews was paying his first wife $4,000 each month in alimony and child support. That left him with just $2,777 in take-home pay-and with a new wife who hadn’t held a full-time job since the early 1980s.

Unsurprisingly, at first, Patty was unable to secure a middle-income job. When she finally did, she was fired less than a year later. Patty’s ex, meanwhile, was in arrears on his $700/month in child support. That meant Andrews was attempting to support two women and four children, essentially maintaining two totally separate households.

Megan’s interpretation is that Andrews “couldn’t afford to get married. At all.” In fact, what Andrews couldn’t afford was to marry women unprepared to participate in the work force.

Goldstein and McArdle make fabulous, if slightly divergent points. And this is as good a cautionary tale as any-but is it for men or for women? Goldsten calls this ” A Good Argument Against Opting Out “-meaning women opting out of the workplace-but I tend to think the real “told you so” goes for the brothers.

Sure, I believe women should seek meaningful breadwinning opportunities, even if they don’t necessarily have to work. But shouldn’t men like Andrews steer clear of the trophy wives? I recall an article from the Wall Street Journal just after the fall 2008 collapse of the housing market about men who were having to give up their mistresses. (And who could forget the DABA women ?) I don’t mean to call Andrews’ former and current wives gold-diggers, but maybe recession stories like his will cause an unintended and welcome consequence-the demise of arm candy.

Andrews’ story also seems to have a second dose of spinach for its readers, male or female. Recall that even on his own, Andrews made a comfortable $120,000 annual salary, more money than the majority of American families could dream of, which placed him squarely in the upper middle class. So shouldn’t his true-life fable teach us to live within our means?