Japanese men's pocket money shrinks as mothers win more respect, according to new survey

Morning commuters make their way to work in Tokyo.
Morning commuters make their way to work in Tokyo. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

TOKYO (Bloomberg) - Japan's once mighty salary men have taken a pummelling in recent years - with pay stagnating and rising numbers of working women and mothers eroding their once-dominant position as the family's breadwinner.

Those changes have affected how they are seen at home, with Japanese children respecting their mothers more than fathers for the first time, according to recent research. And wives - who typically control the purse strings in Japanese households - have continued cutting their husbands' "pocket money," a survey by Shinsei Bank showed this week.

Over the past two decades, average male base wages have shrunk 0.5 per cent.

And even though flat or falling prices mean there may have been little damage to purchasing power, that stagnation meant that there has been little impetus for pocket money to rise. Conversely, the increasing entry of women into the workforce has meant that their pay rose - up 15 per cent over the same period, according to a labour ministry report. That increase might partly be to add to family incomes and subsidise the flat salaries of husbands, but it's causing a change in how women are perceived in the home, according to the research from Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living, which is connected to one of Japan's largest ad agency.

The number of children who said they respect mothers surged to a record high of 68.1 per cent, surpassing that of fathers for the first time, according to the Hakuhodo survey, which was conducted once a decade since 1997. About 62 per cent of kids said they respected their fathers, down from the previous survey.

"We suspect the relationship between mothers and fathers is changing because of the increasing number of double-income households," Hakuhodo said.

"More mothers are working. They're working and flourishing outside the home, and they also take care of chores at home," the Hakuhodo Institute said in an emailed statement. 

"We think the extent of respect from children went up from seeing that up close." 

And while more fathers are helping out at home, there is still a long way to go. Even though working men have the same entitlement as women for parental leave after childbirth, only three per cent of men used this in fiscal 2016, with 57 per cent taking less than five days in 2015. That compares with 82 per cent of women using this subsidised leave,according to a labour ministry report.

"Japanese men continue to face a tough environment," said Mr Koya Miyamae, an economist at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc. whose pocket money has not risen in recent years. This stagnation of allowances is coming from concerns about wage growth, higher taxes and an ageing population, problems that are bigger than any one man, he said.