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Once a man has acquired a significant amount of personal wealth, social influence and/or political clout, the next status symbol on his list is often an attractive, well-bred younger woman who has the social grace necessary to accompany him to public functions. Because of the significant age difference and high level of social pedigree required for the job, the term "trophy wife" is often used to describe such a marital arrangement.
A trophy wife often comes from a similar socioeconomic background as her spouse, but tends to play a more subservient role during public appearances. A trophy wife with independent wealth and interests may indeed be a formidable force in private, but her public role is to enhance her husband's reputation as a virile, successful man of the world. Any man capable of attracting such a beautiful, cultured younger woman must indeed wield significant power and influence.
A number of prominent politicians, including Fred Thompson and Dennis Kucinich, have long been accused of employing trophy wives to enhance their reputations as powerful statesmen. During campaign appearances, an alleged "trophy wife" may appear to spend much of her time looking adoringly at her noticeably older husband or praising his youthfulness or virility during informal appearances. In reality, many women who are married to successful older men are completely aware of their public perceptions, and painstakingly avoid situations in which they could be portrayed as nothing more than "arm candy" for their husbands.
The term "trophy wife" is generally viewed as a pejorative to many women who choose to marry older men in positions of power. In fact, the overuse of the term by the media or public can contribute to the disintegration of an otherwise successful marriage. Relationships with significant age differences can be difficult to maintain in general, and the added scrutiny of a younger wife's motivations or personal agenda can make matters even worse. When legendary performer Paul McCartney, for example, married a much younger woman named Heather Mills, many speculated her role in the marriage was to be nothing more than eye candy or a quintessential trophy wife to an aging musician.
There are some circumstances under which the term trophy wife may fit the bill precisely, but not every May-December relationship between an older man and a younger woman is necessarily a calculated move to acquire a trophy wife. There are a number of reasons why a younger woman might prefer the company of an older man, regardless of his wealth or social standing. A true "trophy wife" may very well understand her expected role in her husband's life and is content to play the part in exchange for a more lavish personal lifestyle.