Sun Hsiao-Li [Abstract]

The “final say” is not the last word: gendered patterns, perceptions, and processes in household decision making among Chinese immigrant couples in Canada  [Full text]

Shirley Sun Hsiao-Li  [1]

Abstract: The central assumption of the “final-say” measure of conjugal dynamics is that reported decision-making outcomes reveal gender inequality within the household; since power is defined as the ability to make decisions affecting the life of the family, the decider is often regarded as the one possessing more power or higher status. Qualitative data collected from in-depth interviews with 16 married Chinese immigrant couples in Canada, however, problematize this assumption. Drawing on data from separate interviews with the spouses, I highlight three subtle ways in which gender inequality manifests itself. First, in a substantial proportion of households, wives rather than husbands made decisions about day-to-day expenses, even when the wife held no paid employment or earned less than the husband. This was an extension of women’s traditionally assigned roles as housekeeper and caregiver. Second, husbands consciously avoided making such decisions. Not only did interviewees perceive household expenditure decisions as “women’s business” (nurenjia de shi), but these decisions were also trivialized by both male and female respondents. Third, interview data showed that there was an unequal distribution of power between spouses, even in the model of joint decision making, because wives tended to seek their husbands’ approval, especially for real estate purchases or high-end consumption. The major findings from this study suggest that researchers’ conclusions about gender relations in the family may depend on the methods of data collection. Specifically, if one takes the respondents’ answers to surveys at face value, one finds that there are three possible conclusions: (1) women are more powerful or have a higher status than men in the family, because wives more often than husbands are the primary decision makers in the matter of household expenditures; (2) men are more powerful than women, because there are more areas that fall under men’s rule; and (3) there is equality between spouses, because joint decision making is a significant pattern. Findings based on in-depth interviews with couples, however, point to one direction: male privilege is present in the family, even when wives are the deciders and when couples report that the decision-making process is shared.Keywords: Gender inequality, decision making, Chinese immigrants, family, marital power

[1] School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, or