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    How the term ‘rich auntie’ is redefining female success and independence

    Gemma White

    Travel, career, social life, investing and shopping, today’s ‘rich auntie’ is kept busy by everything except children

    The aunt, in fiction as she is in life, remains an enduringly fascinating figure, one who has worn many hats through the ages.

    Variously portrayed as the colourful eccentric, the dowdy spinster, the rule-breaking glamourpuss and the black sheep, she’s the relation who turns up fashionably late to family gatherings, imparts the kind of advice your mother would baulk at, slips you Dhs500 and disappears in a cloud of Miss Dior in her six-figure car.

    Pride and Prejudice
    Pride and Prejudice. Image: Alamy

    In Graham Greene’s 1969 novel Travels with My Aunt, the conventional and staid Henry Pulling has his life turned upside down by the appearance of his septuagenarian Aunt Augusta, who whisks him off for a jaunt across Europe, teaching him the meaning of hedonism and saving him from a life of suburban tedium.

    Similarly, in Patrick Dennis’ book Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade, the titular character initiates an orphaned Patrick into a life of decadent flamboyance in 1950s Manhattan, returning again when he has grown up to save him from a loveless marriage.

    And then there are the not-so-great aunts. The snooty Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice doing her best to ensure her nephew Mr Darcy does not ardently admire and love Elizabeth Bennett, not to mention Harry Potter’s Aunt Petunia, whose cruel and dismissive behaviour makes her one of the very worst kind of muggles.

    Jennifer Aniston
    Jennifer Aniston. Image: Alamy

    The current iteration of this revered and beloved figure is the ‘rich auntie’, parlayed into a neat hashtag that encompasses the ‘rich auntie aesthetic’ – think sleek, put-together, elegant – ‘rich auntie era’ – a mindset women of any age can embrace – as well as rich auntie vibes, outfits and lifestyle, all of which have amassed millions of views and likes across social media.

    The rich auntie is child-free (but dotes on her nieces, nephews and godchildren), career-focused, financially savvy and secure, well-heeled, well-travelled and busy, busy, busy. 

    Worlds away from the notion that a woman cannot be fulfilled if she does not have children, but with the acknowledgment that there’s still a long way to go towards full acceptance across global cultures, many women today revel in their child-free rich auntie status, which allows them to lead an unabashedly self-first life in every area from travel to finances.

    “It could sound selfish, but I was so honest with myself about the fact I’m not prepared to give up my career and my life and give myself to another person,” says Alana Wallace, 35, “because, as a mother, you give everything to your child. I wouldn’t have been honouring my authentic self.”

    As an actress, MC and presenter on the UAE’s Luv 107.1 radio morning show, Wallace rises at 4.30am – not to change nappies or soothe a toddler’s nightmare, but to further her career.

    Opra Winfrey
    Opra Winfrey. Image: Getty

    “From the age of 19 to 30, I was very much focused putting all my efforts into my career,” she says. “When I got to 30, 31 and felt my biological clock ticking, I knew I had to think about kids. And then I realised it was a ‘no’.”

    With children comes responsibility, as well as dedicated and wide-ranging emotional, physical and financial investment. A 2023 study by the US-based economic think tank Brookings Institution showed that the average middle-income family with two children will spend $310,605 (Dhs1,140,805) on raising a child up to the age of 18.

    “Children are incredibly expensive,” says Olivia Spruce, 46, CEO of healthcare recruitment consultancy Positive Healthcare. “Raising a child is expensive, but for me, the salary I get – the bonuses and dividends – is mine. I can do with it what I want, whether that’s on holidays, weekends away or buying gifts,” she says.

    “There is some kind of myth around women who don’t have kids, that they don’t like children or don’t want to be around them,” she adds. “That’s not true. I love kids. I have two nephews and love being an informal aunt to my friends’ children and being godparent; I take the role seriously and it’s a really treasured position in my life.”

    Tracis Ellis Ross
    Tracis Ellis Ross. Image: Getty

    For Spruce, being child-free means spontaneity, a sentiment echoed by Dubai-based freelance PR, Anika Berger. “The most obvious aspect is that, as a person with a child, your life is centred around that child and their wellbeing,” she says of the difference between being mother and being auntie. “I can go on holiday at drop of a hat or go out for drinks rather than having to get home for the babysitter.”

    For Berger, a self-confessed “friend auntie”, eschewing becoming a mother for independence, financial freedom and the ability to jet off to south-east Asia whenever the mood strikes has felt like an organic journey.

    “Never say never, but right now I can go without,” she says of her feelings about parenthood. “I wouldn’t be upset if I didn’t have children and I was never someone who thought having kids was a requirement. Some women can’t wait to be a mum and that’s fantastic, everyone has their own path.”

    One of the rich auntie’s greatest hard-earned privileges is the undeniable financial freedom that comes from a child-free life.

    Marisa Tomei
    Marisa Tomei. Image: Getty

    “For me, it means I can spend money without a worry in the world,” says project manager Marlé Van Sandwyk, 31. “Come summer in the UAE, I see a lot of people with children trying to find things for them to do and I’m grateful I don’t have to worry about that. I can spend money as I please, and if I want to splurge, I’m able to, because I don’t have to budget or think about new shoes for the little ones. I feel clear-headed financially.”

    Adds Berger: “Financial freedom means disposable income, not living paycheck to paycheck, having savings in my account and not having to think about what I’m spending. Being able to enjoy life without having to think I should be more careful this month.”

    Having decided against one of society’s biggest expectations of women, the rich auntie is rightly unapologetic about her choice to be child-free.

    “We’re raised to believe we’ll get married and have kids,” says Spruce. “I was always happy with that prospect, but when it came to the crunch, I found myself putting it off and putting it off and I questioned why I was doing that. When I made the decision, it was the most liberating experience of my life.”

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