Japanese husbands get allowances—and they’re at a 31-year low, in a bad sign for Abenomics

Japanese husbands get allowances—and they’re at a 31-year low, in a bad sign for Abenomics
Image: REUTERS/Toru Hanai
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For Japanese men, the budget for a Friday night out on the town has nothing to do with how much they earn. What matters is how much your wife gives you—and the bad news is that it’s not as much as it used to be.

In at least half of Japanese married households, the wife controls the budget and allocates a proportion of her husband’s salary for spending money known as “okozukai”—which covers mobile phone bills, drinks, cigarettes, and entertainment. The average allowance has slipped to $386 per month, according to a new survey by Shinsei Bank (pdf), down 3% from last year and to the lowest level since 1982.

Last year the BBC interviewed one 47-year-old Japanese man who had been receiving an unchanged allowance from his wife for 15 years. He tried to negotiate a raise, but “she [drew] a pie chart of our household budget to explain why I cannot get more pocket money,” he said, defeated.

The okozukai system is part of a broader Japanese financial culture where families often save huge amounts, particularly when times are bad. The result has been an economic disaster, which is why a key part of the government’s “Abenomics” suite of economic reforms is encouraging savers to spend.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s stimulus has received very mixed results, both from markets and consumers. Ultimately the reduction in okozukai can be seen as a vote of no confidence in Abenomics, and a foreboding sign for its future success. If Japan’s tight-fisted housewives aren’t feeling confident enough to increase okozukai, Abe’s attempted economic turnaround may have less of a chance than a husband asking for a few extra yen.