More than 70 percent of Chinese men are willing to hand over complete control of family finances to their wives to provide a sense of security and better wealth management. Photo: IC
Niu Wenju, a 34-year-old product manager at an Internet company in Beijing, handed over control of his entire income to his wife when he was married in May 2011.
Niu earns around 15,000 yuan ($2,248) per month; he takes out between 2,000 and 3,000 yuan to pay for his daily transportation, lunch, social activities, and money to buy gifts for their parents. He then gives all the remaining money to his wife.
"Before we got married, my wife suggested that she take control of the finances once we wed. Although it's hard for me, it only took me 10 minutes to digest the request before I agreed to it," Niu laughed.
Niu thinks the main reason he agreed was because of traditional Chinese values. It is custom in a Chinese family that one person controls the money.
"Growing up, it was always my mother who controlled the money, so subconsciously I am already used to this agreement."
Apparently, Niu is not the only Chinese man who has lost control of his paycheck after marriage. According to an August report by the news portal ecns.cn, more than 70 percent of Chinese men agree to their wives being in control of their income.
The report quoted a survey by a Chinese dating website zhenai.com, conducted on 100 million of its customers. Among the respondents, 72.7 percent of men said they were willing to give their paychecks to their wives and another 12.57 percent said they were reluctant to do so but would still give in if it made their wives happy. Interestingly, women in Beijing and Shanghai who claim to have a higher level of independence and forward attitudes in relationships and marriage, have the strongest desire to manage family finances.
After the survey's release, the local expat community website Beijingkids reported the news, and it sparked a heated discussion among the expat circle. Many expats cannot believe that so many Chinese men would hand over their hard-earned money. Metropolitan talked to several Chinese and Western couples to find out how they handled family finances and the reason behind their decisions.
Western couples are generally more independent when handling family finances. Photo: IC
A sense of security
For Niu, aside from tradition, he agreed to the arrangement to show his wife he loves her and to give her a sense of security in their relationship. At first, Niu's wife did not even want to leave Niu the 2,000-3,000 yuan for his daily expenses. She was worried that if Niu had all of that disposable money, he could afford to have an extramarital affair.
"My wife makes as much as I do, so she is not dependant on me economically. She thinks this is a way for me to prove my loyalty and guard our love. I can understand that, so I agreed," he said.
"I want her to feel secure, knowing that even if our marriage breaks down one day, she has all of my money. As a man, it would be easier for me to make money and start a new life."
Chen Zhilin, a relationship counselor based in Chongqing, said that the phenomenon shows the idea of gender inequality still exists in China. Women do not feel secure and they think they will be abandoned one day. Therefore, they think as long as they can control their spouse's finances, their marriage will be safe.
Chen also believes that the average Chinese man pays less attention to detail and would not want to go to the trouble of making a detailed financial plan for the family.
Niu agrees. He said that letting his wife handle the finances helps their family save money.
"She helps me think twice before making any big purchases, since it is 'our' money," Niu said.
Antonio Arsoli, a 36-year-old communication officer from Italy, who works in an international school in Beijing, said that he finds the way Chinese couples handle family finances surprising; Western couples are usually more independent in family finances.
According to Arsoli, the Chinese tradition shows that spouse selection is more materialistic.
Arsoli is a communications coach and his wife is an artist and writer; neither of them have consistent paychecks, so they must adapt to the situation.
"When one of us makes more money, we use it for rent, school and holidays, while the person who is making less pays for outings and extras. When the situation changes, we switch roles," Arsoli said.
Most Chinese think that Western families go "Dutch" (paying for themselves separately), but Arsoli thinks Dutch is a cold way to describe it.
"For us, it's more independence and sharing between couples," he said.
"I believe that a smart, successful couple works better if they each have a life outside of the home and completely relying on each other," Arsoli concluded.
Regarding preventing a husband from having an affair by controlling his money, Arsoli said that he thinks it's sad to see a woman keep a man's money just to insure he won't cheat on her. There is no trust or joy in the relationship.
Arsoli said although in Western countries, some people also use that method, most Westerners focus on keeping their relationship fresh by being charming, keeping up with personal appearance and having passions and hobbies to share.
In a family where partners love each other, it is important for both to have a fulfilling a role in work and society. It is not just about bringing two salaries together and splitting everything down the middle; it is about having two living brains and two developed people together, according to Arsoli.
Although the zhenai.com survey showed that most Chinese men would hand over their paychecks, there are some Chinese that are following the Western trend of adopting a more independent attitude when it comes to family finances.
Cai Zonghui, a 30-year-old director, works at a television station in Beijing, and he and his wife have chosen to keep most of their money separate.
Every month, they each put 3,000 yuan in a bank account, and they use the money in that joint account for groceries and activities they both participate in.
Other than the shared money, they have complete liberty with the rest of their income.
"Actually, it was my wife who suggested that we take this approach. She works, has a good salary and doesn't like other people to put regulations on her daily life," Cai said.
"I also don't think that one person in the family should control the finances. It would cause conflict when one person wants to use the money for something and the other doesn't agree."
Cai said his parents are a tragic case. They have been fighting with each other their entire lives because Cai's mother controls the finances and will not let his father use the money to pursue his own interests.
"I don't want to repeat that tragedy," Cai said.
Chen said he believes that men and women are equal both financially and spiritually in China. Women are even more independent and no longer rely on a relationship or a marriage for a sense of security but on career development. He believes more Chinese couples will become independent in their family finances.
"Especially among the couples who both have high-level incomes and are in high-level social classes, because they are both more confident about their own lives and personal independence," Chen said.
Cai agrees with Chen's observation.
"As early as when I was at university, many of the professors have chosen the Western approach of handling finances in their marriage. We were inspired by them, and more of my friends, around my age or younger, are choosing this arrangement," Cai said. "Everyone should be independent and have choice and freedom in their lives, even after they get married."