Vietnamese women who get training on running their own business and on equality are more inclined to conceal earnings from their husbands than other women. Especially if their husband takes part in the training course too. This finding comes from a study by researchers including professor of Development Economics Erwin Bulte.
Imagine you could choose: pocket 50 euros without your partner’s knowledge or receive 75 euros on your joint account. Bulte and his colleagues at the University of Groningen put this kind of choice to 339 rural Vietnamese women who were participating in a microfinancing project. In this kind of project, women get financial support and training in starting their own business. They also get courses intended to help them gain equal status in the household. Sometimes their partner is invited to these sessions too. Bulte: ‘The idea is that this helps couples learn to collaborate and invest better. It may also help the men to respect their wives more as full partners in financial matters.’
But Bulte thinks it has an unintended side effect. ‘Men also get an insight into their wives’ finances. In Vietnam, the man is in charge of the household budget. If the woman earns more from her business, the chances are that her husband will expect her to contribute more too.’ This could make it more tempting for the women to keep back some of her income. Especially if she doesn’t get much say in how the money is spent. On the other hand, says Bulte, a training course can help a woman to stand up for herself more, leading to her getting more say in things. They she might be prepared to contribute more to the household finances voluntarily.
In order to test the effect of the training courses, the researchers played a game with the women who were participating in the microfinancing project. Some of them had also followed the training courses (with or without their partners). In eight rounds of the game, the women could choose between a fixed sum of money that they could keep to themselves or a variable amount that their partner knew about. In the first round, this variable sum was lower than the fixed one, but it got bigger in each round. Most of the women (65 percent) opted for honesty. Bulte: ‘We were surprised that a lot of the women were even prepared to pay for honesty. They opted for the lower joint amount. This is quite unlike what researchers have seen in other countries.’ It did turn out, however, that women who had done the training courses were likelier to be willing to lie, particularly if their husbands had attended the course too.
This does not mean it would be better not to provide the training courses, says Bulte. Women who take the courses do better in their businesses. ‘You also see that men make a positive contribution to the business and their commitment is important. It is a terribly complex issue.’ Another study showed, for instance, that women who take part in this kind of training course are then more likely to be the victims of domestic violence. Why that is, Bulte doesn’t know exactly. ‘The training courses and financing currently target women primarily. Perhaps this breeds envy and the extra income might cause conflicts.’ According to Bulte, that might be a motive to keep quiet about earnings. ‘But it is very difficult to research that kind of correlation because research on abuse is carried out anonymously at the group level and we don’t have any data on individual women. But in such cases, involving the partner might have a positive impact.’