Nov 06

Who Holds the Family Purse in China?

Written by Allen on Friday, November 6th, 2009 at 5:04 am
Filed under:-mini-posts, aside, culture, economy, media, News, video | Tags:, , ,
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Despite great strides made over gender equality in the last 60 years, there are still a lot China can do as a nation to promote greater equality and promote the livelihoods of women – especially in the rural areas.

But in the city at least, the power dynamics between men and women seems to be changing – at least on a family per family basis.

Here is an entertaining video from James Fallow on who holds the family purse in China?

If you live in or have been to China, what are your thoughts?

Do women really hold the family purse in China? Are there difference among the major cities Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Shenzen, Tianjin, Chongqing, Guangzhou?  What accounts for this changing dynamics? Is it a result of economic development or does it symbolize a deeper social change?

Since we reach audiences from around the world, what is it like in your neck of the world? Who holds the purse in your house?

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28 Responses to “Who Holds the Family Purse in China?”

  1. kui Says:

    Who hold the purse? Women. Chinese women are the best at managing family finance. Chinese men know this.

  2. dewang Says:

    For my grandparents and my parents generation, I see Chinese men predominantly making the financial decisions. Within my generation – just looking at my cousins and friends in China (Shanghai, Beijing, and couple of other places): the correlation more has to do with who brings in a higher salary.

  3. TonyP4 Says:

    Shanghai husband (or slave)!

    China is so huge, so it is hard to generalized. I bet Tier I cities are quite equal for home finance and the ladies do the home finance even the guys make more. Rural area is quite different and many minorities have different custom. Mao said woman holds up half of the sky, so he promoted equality.

    Do we still have the kingdom with only females in China like the one described in Journey to the West, haha?

  4. pug_ster Says:

    My wife is terrible at finance. I hold most of the money and pay the bills, while she makes decisions on making big purchases (which are often dumb purchases.)

  5. Raj Says:

    I think as a rule women still hold the purse strings in China. Hell, some of my friends make their husbands do the cooking too!

  6. Charles Liu Says:

    kui @ 1, “women”

    I’m not sure if this generalization is necessarily true. Most of my relatives in China the men takes care of finances.

  7. pug_ster Says:

    I think that companies cater to women shoppers and try to empower them to control the finance. It is certainly easier to woo women to buy things because their decisions are mostly emotional whereas most men think rationally. I recall that last Christmas during financial crisis I went to a couple of car dealers and try to lowball them for a price of a car. We obviously went to the dealer with the lowest price, we went to the car salesman obviously trying to rip us off but my wife was so fixated in buying that car that she was willing to be skimmed just to buy the car. I got tired of hearing the salesman’s lies and walked out from the dealership but my wife hated me for it. On the way back home she collected her thoughts and said that I was right to walk out from the dealer.

  8. wukong Says:

    Of course the woman holds the purse … any self-respecting man will only carry wallet.

  9. Samantha Says:

    It depends on which city you are talking about. Some cities are known to be more male-centric while others not. For example, Shanghai women are famous for their dominance over men. One of my childhood neighbours was from Shanghai, the dad took care of all house work including sewing and cooking while the mother did nothing other than walking around and sipping tea.

    I grew up in Beijing. It seems typical there that women tend to be one in charge all domestic issues finance included. At lease it is the case in my family. My mother has always been the ultimate decision maker. My sister’s family is no different. My brother, he adores his wife so much that I highly doubt he would ever spell a “no” to her.

    However, more male-centric regions such as Guangdong or Northeast part of China may be different.
    Also, profession may also be a factor. For example, businessmen rarely wilfully relinquish the control over family finance.

  10. Steve Says:

    My wife controls the money in my marriage, which is just the way I like it. She’s very good with money. It’s also normal for Hakka (kejia) women to control the money in their families.

    As far as our Taiwanese American friends, every wife controls the money in her household. I can’t think of a single exception. And none of their husbands mind either.

    When I was in Shanghai, I asked my friends about the cooking/cleaning in their households (to check out this stereotype) and in most of them, their mothers did most of the cooking and cleaning. A few had fathers who cooked and cleaned so I think there’s a bit of truth to it but it only applies to some of the marriages. I thought highly of the Shanghai women I met and didn’t understand why so many in other parts of China would make fun of them.

  11. TonyP4 Says:

    Hi Steve,

    * One reason your wife (or other Chinese wife) wants to control the finance so the guy would not have a mistress, haha. Mistresses cost!

    * The SH guys and SH ladies would not tell the truth as it would ruin their image of a weak male and a bitchy female. What happens in a family stays in a family.

  12. Steve Says:

    Hi Tony~

    I purchased the Swiss Army Knife marriage: Wife, Mistress, Lover and Girlfriend all rolled into one exciting package. 😛

    Does that mean that Hong Kong guys and their wives also don’t tell the truth? How about Beijing guys and their wives? Now I don’t know WHO to believe!!! 😉

  13. S.K. Cheung Says:

    “What happens in a family stays in a family.” — hey Tony, you’re starting to sound Italian…of the Sicilian variety 🙂

    I wonder if much of this is generational. My mother did all the cooking/cleaning in my house growing up. My mother-in-law did the same in my wife’s family. And it was pretty much the same thing with all my friends’ families. But I do my share of housework, and most couples I know have a pretty equitable division of household labour. I think male chauvinism was alive and well in many cultures in previous generations, but might be dying a slow death in some societies today.

    Speaking of money, one of my wife’s favourite lines to me is “my money is my money, but your money is our money”.

  14. Josef Says:

    Steve, “..I can’t think of a single exception.” You can add one more in your statistics.
    They say also in Taiwan: “All the important decisions are taken by the man, but the wife decides which decision is
    Very often the wife owns the house, which gives a certain security to the family, if the man’s business or shop fails.
    A tragic example might be A-Bian and in a (humorous) discussion with friends on this topic I asked once: what if she is doing some strange business and the judge will tell you: “you must have known?”

  15. TonyP4 Says:

    #12. HK folks believe ‘Made-in-China’ is cheap in money but great in quality. 🙂

    #13. S.K., does your wife believe in woman equality? Mao wasted his breath in saying “Women held up half of the sky.” and it should be changed to “3/4 of the sky”.

  16. Steve Says:

    @ Josef #14: Ha ha, that’s a good one that I’ll need to try out one of these days, like tomorrow! We’re going to lunch with another Chinese/American couple so I’ll have to work that one into the conversation.

    Every Chinese family business I know of here in the States is owned by the wife. I’m about to start a new business and will put it in my wife’s name. I figure that makes it women owned and minority owned, the double whammy. Also, I can take her on business trips and write off some of the expenses, unless Allen says I’m breaking the law. 😀

  17. dewang Says:

    Hi Steve, #16,

    I like your idea of having in the wife’s name. Hey, I didn’t know Asians in America are minorities! 🙂

    Hi S.K. Cheung, #13,

    “I think male chauvinism was alive and well in many cultures in previous generations, but might be dying a slow death in some societies today.”

    I think so too.

  18. Cissy Says:

    Steve #10

    “I thought highly of the Shanghai women I met and didn’t understand why so many in other parts of China would make fun of them.”

    Because the Shanghai culture appeals to the west more than to China itself. There are a lot of aspects in Chinese culture that it can’t find itself fit in. “Make fun of” is a nice way of putting it. I grow up getting used to this kind of hostile attitude, which I interpret as a mixture of disapproval and jealousy, including the ridiculous “compliment” that you don’t look like somebody from Shanghai. And I just ignore them and live the way we live.

  19. TonyP4 Says:

    Hi Cissy, we’re all jealous as SH is the pearl of China. SH is NYC while BJ is Wash DC in China. HK’s initial success is due to the rich SH refugees escaping from communists in 1949 and bringing their business expertise/money. So treat it as a complement than ‘making fun of’.

    SH ladies are good-looking too, not too tall than the BJ ladies. Smarter than most other regions. Tougher business men and ladies.

  20. wk Says:

    My experience tells me its both.

  21. Cissy Says:

    test. Please remove. Just curious, am I actually censored? Why I can post here but not in the other post? I hope this is technical, otherwise I will be very much shocked.

  22. admin Says:


    Sorry about the inconvenience. We have a spam filter that occasionally blocks legitimate comments. We try our best to release them ASAP. On the other hand, please refrain from posting the same comment multiple times. The system is likely to identify that as spamming and it also increases our workload. Thanks.

  23. hzzz Says:

    Looking at my parents and Chinese friends, the wives tend to control general finance but the husbands are the ones who make the final decision on the “big” items, like cars and houses. I actually would prefer my own wife to control our daily finances but she doesn’t want to.

    With the ease of internet shopping and proliferation of impulse buying I think it’s difficult for one to completely control the other though. For example, in the past when my parents went out shopping together then my mom would constantly block my dad from buying electronics which they don’t really need. However, nowadays my dad just browse websites for deals and then ships the items directly to my home in the US.

    Finally, in Shanghai at least most of the people, men and women in their 20s-30s cannot cook. I think this is because of the one child policy and the part of the Chinese Culture which demands that the parent live with their kids in one big family. As the result, the parents would cook for their kids. When their kids grow up and have their own kids, the grandparents would still cook and take care of the grandkids as well. The fact that the retirement age in China is relatively young (I know a of people retiring at around 50, and few work into their 60s) helps to create this situation.

  24. Steve Says:

    @ hzzz #23: Do you think the younger Shanghainese can’t cook or just don’t want to cook? I was talking to a Shanghainese friend of mine about this, in her late 20s, and she said she can cook but would rather marry a husband that can cook since she doesn’t like to. She has a really good job so I got the impression that she’d rather work than cook.

    Outside of my wife, virtually all of the Taiwanese housewives here in San Diego almost never cook though they don’t work. They just got out for meals and their husbands don’t seem to mind. Fortunately, my wife is “Ms. Organic” and wants to control the ingredients and how the food is prepared, so I get home cooked meals. 😛

  25. TonyP4 Says:

    I’ve friends in NYC who do not cook much. The apartment is expensive and quite small. With so many minorities working for pennies in restaurants, why you want to cook except for health reasons. SH could be like that.

  26. hzzz Says:


    I think young Shanghaiese people don’t want to cook and they can’t cook. Looking at my cousins in Shanghai, they live with their parents and grandparents until they finish college. All of this time their parents or grandparents cook for them. Cooking is not only about stir frying veggies, the majority of the time are spent on picking up the ingredients and preparation. The few times I go to market place (not supermarket) in Shanghai, they only young people there are the farmers doing the selling.

    The only time when young Shanghaiese people have an opportunity to cook is right after getting a job. That’s when they first start to live on their own (if they are lucky). However, that is also the time when you eat out the most because you don’t have any dependencies. A good salary for someone in their 20s in Shanghai would be somewhere north of 15k RMB/month. In Shanghai you can easily eat out everyday and spend less than 1,000 RMB per month. So there is very little incentive for young people to actually cook rather than spending the time doing other stuff, like going out.

    Once Shanghaiese people (I would say most Chinese actually) get married and have kids, their parents typically move back in because the wife works and someone needs to take care of the kids. The grand parents then typically resume the role of the cook. Of course, having grand parents to take care of kids only works when there are not too many kids and grand kids. This is why I think once the Single Child policy is do away with (some exceptions has been made for this rule recently), then things will have to be different.

    Personally I have not cooked much after college and I actually like cooking. My problem is that I don’t like leftovers and it’s simply difficult to cook only for one or two people. My wife used to cook for me and even scrub the floors when we first married, but once she started working I have to both cook (less than 10 times a month) and scrub the floors myself. The good news is that recently a huge Korean market opened around my neighborhood and they had these people teaching how to make Korean food. I discovered that buying marinated meat, stir frying with Kimchi and Tofu to make Kimchi Bokum is so damn easy and taste good too. Proper Chinese cooking on the other hand requires you first lightly fry your meat and then stir fry, prepare your sauce, etc. So I guess in my family we will be eating Korean food for a while..

  27. TonyP4 Says:

    40 years ago in HK, we had servants (refugees from China) to cook. Even we had a refrigerator, the servant shopped 2 times a day and all food were fresh. Gone were the good old days. In US, we shopped once a week and even more for items on sale and when I partially retired.

    We have a huge Korean supermarket just opened in our town named H Mart. It is a chain and better than our family-owned Chinese supermarkets. They’re very successful so far and somehow we’re influenced by Korean cultures in its food and some mini series that are quite good (I watched a couple as it takes us too much time). Koreans in US are doing amazingly good in one or two generations.

  28. justkeeper Says:

    @Steve: Everything has to do with Shanghai people is essentially about money, that’s my general impression. The bad thing here is that they won’t allow you to take away an extra penny from them, the good thing is they’re also very cautious to avoid taking away what should below to you. The way to deal with Shanghaiese is just being absolutely clear on the money side.

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