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Many Asian wives now hold the purse strings


Publication Date : 23-04-2012


Ismail Giu no longer pockets the money he earns as the man in charge of protocol for the government of Gorontalo in Indonesia. It all goes straight into his wife's bank account.

In yet another sign that times are changing in parts of Asia such as Gorontalo, a predominantly Muslim province in Sulawesi, more and more wives control the purse strings.

A new ruling that went into effect there last month requires all married men who are civil servants to hand over their monthly salaries to their wives.

While admitting it is "out of the ordinary", Ismail, 26, does not have a problem letting his wife manage the money. The couple have a five-month-old infant and he used to worry that his salary might run out before the next pay cheque came in.

"It's easier this way for me," he says. "Now, it's her task to manage and to ensure we make ends meet every month."

In other Asian countries, such as Japan and even China, wives already control their family's internal affairs.

At the end of each month, in fact, convention bureau employee Toru Yamaishi, 53, hands over his entire salary to his wife, Yuriko, even though there is no law requiring him to do so.

It is a ritual he has observed since they got married 27 years ago. The couple, who have two sons, aged 22 and 25, live in Matsumoto city, nearly three hours north-west of Tokyo by train.

With the money, his wife buys the groceries, pays the utility and other bills, gives him 50,000 yen (US$612) a month in pocket money and still has some to spare.

"I sometimes ask her what the balance is. If she thinks we will have some money left over that month, I might suggest going out for Hida beef that night," said Yamaishi, referring to a major breed of wagyu in Japan that is considered a luxury food.

Travel agent Shogo Murata, 52, thinks the practice is common in Japan.

"Because of this, my wife does not complain," he says. "I know that if I were to take charge of our domestic finances, expenses would go up and we would not be able to save any money. My wife is good at keeping a lid on spending, so I feel at ease."

In neighbouring China, an HSBC report released in November last year revealed that 63 per cent of Chinese women play the dominant role in money matters at home. This is well above the international average of 53 per cent, the bank found in a survey.

In fact, a survey of 3,375 households by a women's federation in Jiangsu province showed that about 88 per cent of the women - aged between 18 and 64 - felt very satisfied with their position in the family and handle all the daily expenses.

At least seven in 10 also handle all the decisions or make joint decisions with their husband on the children's education, buying or renovating their homes, and the family's investments or loans.

These statistics were a 'significant improvement' - a rise of as much as 15 percentage points - from 10 years ago, the federation noted.

Beijing housewife Liu Chen, 40, gives her husband an allowance.

"I give him some cash - say a few thousand yuan - for taxi fare or meals from time to time so that he doesn't need to go to the ATM," says Liu, who has been married for 12 years. The couple have a 10-year-old daughter.

Professor Zhao Fanyi of the Southern Development Research Centre told Yangcheng Evening News that it is a tradition that Chinese women are in charge of family finances.

In addition, as Chinese women become more highly educated, their investment and financial capabilities improve and so they become more adept at this traditional task, she said.

In India, however, financial decisions generally remain with the men, especially among the lower classes. This often leaves women having to stretch the last rupee for the household.

But now that Indian women are increasingly entering the workforce, some are playing a bigger role in the family's financial matters.

"Generally, women who make more money or the same amount as their husbands also have a bigger or equal say," said sociologist Ranjana Kumari, the director of the Centre for Social Research, a Delhi-based non-governmental organisation.

"When it comes to household-related expenses, then women do have a say."

Pirida Mohan, a 28-year-old schoolteacher who earns 15,000 rupees ($281) a month, is a good example.

Early in her marriage, she handed her entire salary to her husband who then decided how much of the money should be spent on clothing and food for them and their four-year-old son.

Now that she is making more money than her husband, she has managed to gain some financial independence and gets to keep a part of her salary for herself.

"My priority is to pay for my son's education. Then comes the household," she said. "It's not easy. Every month is a struggle but we are managing."

Reporting by Kwan Weng Kin in Tokyo, Grace Ng in Beijing, Nirmala Ganapathy in New Delhi, and Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja in Jakarta


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