Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Above All, Does It Pay? The Plaths' Financial World

Otto Plath died in 1940. Aurelia Plath said he left his family a $5,000 life-insurance policy. In 2021, the equivalent of that payout would be $93,000.


The cost of a typical funeral in the US in 1940 was about $800; $650 of that was for the casket. Burial is a separate expense; Aurelia paid $375 for Otto's burial, about $7,000 today. A typical funeral/burial package in 2021 costs $12,000.


Fee for leg-amputation surgery in 1940 is unknown; in 2021, it’s $20,000 to $60,000. A prosthesis is a separate expense.


Aurelia Plath’s Money:


Aurelia did substitute teaching at $25/week in 1941, equivalent to $420/week in 2021. At that rate a 40-week school year would pay Aurelia our equivalent of $16,880/year. The average US public-school teacher in 1940, working 40 weeks, made $1,435/year, or about $36/week.


Aurelia in 1942 became a full-time instructor at Boston University at $1,800/year, the equivalent of $30,250/year today. (Letters Home, 29) This put their household of five below today’s poverty level ($31,000). Aurelia taught summer school and tutored to earn more, and there were Grampy’s earnings, amount unknown.


A survey of 158 US colleges and universities for 1947-48, the year Aurelia was promoted to assistant professor, showed the median salary of assistant professors to be $3,000/year. In 2021 dollars that’s a bit over $36,000.


Aurelia in 1953 wrote Olive Higgins Prouty she earned $3,900/year. The 2021 equivalent is $38,000.


Associate Professors in 1968-69, shortly before Aurelia retired with that title, made a national median salary of $12,151/year; $93,300 in 2021 dollars. But counting only faculty salaries in non-public colleges such as Boston University, the median salary sank to $7,662, or, in 2021 terms, $59,000/year. As a female, Aurelia would likely have been paid about 70 percent of whatever her male colleagues made.


A publisher’s $5,000 advance payment in 1975, such as Aurelia got for Letters Home, would equal $25,000 today.


Sylvia Plath’s Money


In 1947 if Sylvia earned $25, that would be like $302 today.


The $850 Olive Higgins Prouty scholarship given Sylvia in 1950 would equal $9,400 today. (SP to ASP, 31 October 1950)


A “classic pair of silver closed pumps” priced at $12.95 in 1953 would cost $126 today. (SP to ASP, 3 March 1953)


In a May 21, 1955, letter to her mother, Sylvia summed up her past year’s earnings from writing: $470, which would look like $4,585 in 2021.


Smith College paid Sylvia $4,200 to teach Freshman English for nine months. The equivalent today would be $39,640 (SP to ASP, 12 March 1957). The median pay for instructors in 1957 was $4,562, equivalent today to $40,300. Women’s colleges were known for paying lower salaries all across the board.


Sylvia and her friend Anne Sexton’s 70-cent cafeteria meal would be $7 in 2021.


What was, in 1959, a $15 eagle tattoo would cost $135 today.


In 1960, the US median monthly apartment rental was $71; in Massachusetts, $74. Source.


Sylvia’s $100 bonus for signing a New Yorker contract would equal $874 today. (SP to ASP, 1 March 1961)


1000 British pounds in 1962 would today equal $22,500 US. (SP to ASP, 9 October 1962)


The $700 check Sylvia received from her Aunt Dot was the equivalent of $6,000 in 2021 money. (SP to ASP, 29 November 1962)


The book Lord Byron’s Wife, in 1962 priced at $6.50, would be priced at $56 today. (SP to ASP, 29 November 1962)


The equivalencies were calculated with the Inflation Calculator. Median salaries for college and university faculty are from the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbooks for 1949, 1951, 1959, 1970-71, accessed through “Prices and Wages by Decade,” Federal poverty guideline information here. There were no US federal poverty guidelines until 1963.

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