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Preferring Cook or Earning Bread

To be a successful professional or a content wife at home? With the economic boom, quite a number of women have started to ponder on the question.

In Guangdong, quite a few women have chosen to be housewives rather than follow a career path.

Lian Zi, aged 31, has been a full-time housewife for three and a half years. She enjoys cooking, raising her children and caring for her husband at home.

In fact, a recent survey of 2,112 households in the province showed some 25 percent of women interviewed said they'd prefer to stay at home "if the husband's income could support them."

The figure is 8.6 percent higher than the national average.

The recent survey was conducted by the Provincial Women's Federation of Guangdong and the Bureau of Statistics of Guangdong. The 2,112 households are spread out over 16 cities, 44 counties and more than 300 villages in the province.

The provincial survey, its results released last month, was conducted for the second time starting from 2000 since its inception in 1990.

Local Guangdong women enjoy an overall well-being above the national average in terms of education, career structure, protection of rights and interests, self-esteem and the extent of satisfaction towards family and life.

Take the salary of the local working women, in which, the local women represent 17.8 percent of the total high income earners an annual income of more than 15,000 yuan, (US$1,807), a sharp contrast to the 6.1 percent national average.

However, the results ironically demonstrate a more pronounced gender bias in the region than other areas in the country. For instance, those conceive that "men are born stronger than women," accounted for 44.3 percent of interviewees.

In addition, the opponents are some 10 percent lower than the national average, standing at 52.5 percent.

In responding "whether a wife should avoid achieving a higher social status than her husband," one quarter of Guangdong women agreed.

The figure has increased by 4.5 per from 1990 and is 6.2 percent higher than the current national average.

Meanwhile, more than 60 percent of local women hold the perception that "men are career-oriented while women are bound to focus on family."

This figure is 16.5 percent up on 10 years ago and nearly 11 percent higher than the current national average.

Around half of the middle-aged (36 to 45) local women interviewed in the survey count more on "a promising marriage" than "a promising job."

Backed up with this perception, the number of full-time housewives in Guangdong has increased in recent years. This may in part explain a 10 percent drop from a decade ago in the employment rate of urban women in Guangdong.

Disparity of mindset

Zheng Chen, vice copy editor of the monthly Family periodical, said, both historically and contemporaneously, men in the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong have traditionally been the major bread earners; who even make a living overseas. Women's main duties are those of mother, wife, and housekeeper.

Geologically, Guangdong - a region adjacent to Macao and Hong Kong - is apt to be influenced by its neighbor’s cultural backdrop in which housewives are quite a common scene, in particular on TV.

On the other hand, the overpowering male image can be related to the workforce, where the top of the hierarchy is mostly dominated by the male.

For instance, among the candidates running for the prefecture-level officials in Guangdong, only 5 percent are women, added Wang Hongwei, a professor at the South China Normal University. "It is high time women sharpen their competition senses and edges," he said.

Though the overall job situation is looking up in Guangdong, seeing a higher employment rate, a more reasonable career structure and higher income, the majority of women are sweating in low-skilled, labor-intensive and low-paid positions or industries, said Lin Huisu, president of the Women's Federation of Guangdong.

In her opinion, the enlarging income gap between men and women, especially in the medium and high income positions, cannot be ignored.

It may, in part, account for the gender bias among Cantonese, she said. "It is kind of a regression," Lin conceded, "but it is not to stay. Things will change for the better with the advent of a wholesome social welfare system and more funds allocated for training women for re-employment."

"A promising job is zero risk for women," said Lin Qi, vice-president of the Guangdong Women's Federation. "At best, a woman has in hand a promising job and a happy family. But if she can't have both, she is wise to choose a career, which will help her take control of her own fate."

She added, for those who put their entire stake on marriage, the risk is high. When a woman wears out her chrism in household chores, she may be devalued by her husband and society.

A woman surnamed Deng, a former housewife, agreed with this notion.

The 32-year-old woman was happy to join the "bandwagon" of career women again.

In 1998, when she was pregnant, she decided to quit her tiresome job as an accountant to perform her housewife role. However, being trapped in the household, she found herself is unhappy at home. It suddenly dawned on her that her career had been basic to her identity. Thus, she resolved to rejoin the workforce. Her advice: "If you are happy to be a full-time housewife, well and good, but when you find it not as desirable as expected, why not change?"

(China Daily March 7, 2002)

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