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The ‘Final Say’ Is Not the Last Word. Gendered Patterns, Perceptions, and Processes in Household Decision Making Among Chinese Immigrant Couples in Canada

Keywords: Gender inequality , Decision making , Chinese immigrants , Family , Marital power

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Abstract:

The central assumption of the ‘final-say’ measure of conjugal dynamics is that reporteddecision-making outcomes reveal gender inequality within the household; since power is defined asthe ability to make decisions affecting the life of the family, the decider is often regarded as the onepossessing more power or higher status. Qualitative data collected from in-depth interviews with 16married Chinese immigrant couples in Canada, however, problematize this assumption. Drawing ondata from separate interviews with the spouses, I highlight three subtle ways in which genderinequality manifests itself. First, in a substantial proportion of households, wives rather thanhusbands made decisions about day-to-day expenses, even when the wife held no paid employmentor earned less than the husband. Second, husbands consciously avoided making such decisions. Notonly did interviewees perceive household expenditure decisions as ‘women’s business’ (nurenjia deshi), but these decisions were also trivialized by both male and female respondents. Third, interviewdata showed that there was an unequal distribution of power between spouses, even in the modelof joint decision making, because wives tended to seek their husbands’ approval, especially for realestate purchases or high-end consumption. The major findings from this study suggest thatresearchers’ conclusions about gender relations in the family may depend on the methods of datacollection.

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