Are Chinese Wives Becoming Relationship Breadwinners? Chinese Women Continue To Defy Traditional Chinese Gender Roles

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By Michelle FlorCruz | February 10, 2013 5:10 AM EST

Chinese womens' duties have traditionally been limited to raising children, cooking and cleaning, while Chinese men's roles traditionally included working, earning money and controlling the family's finances. While those traditional roles are still the norm for most of China, in Shanghai, for some time, many of the China's traditional gender roles have been reversed. 

The Horizon Research Consultancy Group recently claimed that women manage their family finances in more than 40 percent of Shanghai households, a figure that is only slightly higher than the national average of about 38 percent.  
 

However, one sociologist, Xue Yali, an assistant researcher from the Family Education Research Center at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, says the online survey conducted by the research group may not be saying much.

"Managing money does not mean women are enjoying higher positions at home, as ['managing family finances'] can be [be limited to] trivial matters like paying for power and gas," Xue said. "The key point is who does the decision-making in the family," she added. 

However, Tony Wang, a wealth management manager at a Shanghai bank says that he has more female clients than male clients, and they are doing more than just paying family bills. 

"I found more women have the power to allocate their wealth, but they tend to be cautious, and prefer products with small risks and small returns. Generally speaking, men are bolder in making investment decisions," Wang said.

In Shanghai, the men have historically been considered much more modern, cultured, subdued and gentle than their rural counterparts. However, much of rest of the country often ridicules them by referring to them as the "little men of Shanghai," much the way "yuppies" are often derided by the working classes in the U.S. In china, these men, who allow their wives to work and manage their family's finances, are ridiculed in Chinese folk tales, television shows, movies and now on the Internet, where they are usually portrayed as subordinates to dominant women in their relationships. 

A China Daily article in 2006 took a look at one of these Shanghai relationships to see how it set itself apart from those of the rest of the country, if at all. Paul Pan, the subject of the article, was a 27-year-old executive at a foreign company. He said in the article that although some may categorize him as being one of "little men of Shanghai," that did not make him a wimp.

"My wife is a successful advertising company executive, she has no time for cooking and other household chores," Pan said. Besides, he added, "my wife is a terrible cook."

Pan said he used to be teased by his colleagues outside Shanghai for his "deference" to his wife.

"They think I'm a wimp," he said. "I am not a wimp. I am just not boorish like the rest of them."

Now, seven years after that article was written, women all over China are recognizing that their main role is not necessarily to stay at home, and that men are not the only people who can make and manage money. 

According to research published by Jiayuan, a Chinese online-dating site, women are increasingly becoming financially independent from their spouses. Ninety-eight percent of women surveyed said they would not ask their husbands to give them their disposable income. In addition, Horizon Research found that more than 36 percent of women in cities have a higher income than their husbands. 

Whether  the "little men" applies to just the men of Shanghai or modern Chinese men in general, it's clear the rest of China's women are catching up with their counterparts in Shanghai, and it's only a matter of time that gender stereotypes will change nationwide. 

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