The above prognostication has already become a self-fulfilling prophecy because too many women from the "developed West" do not actively participate in their own financial lives. Call it a colossal Anglo Saxon hangover, but this "forboden" philosophy toward money matters, perpetuated by both men and women, is rooted in dated social mores, shame and generally low expectations. A lack of financial engagement makes people anxious on the one hand, yet on the other, distracted by more frivolous peers who treat money matters with casual indifference. This toxic mix of taboo and disregard means that despite the West having had wealth for 500 plus years, it remains mostly in the hands of men.
How is Asia different? You could course a path through North, East and much of Southeast Asia from Hokkaido to Hunan to to Ho Chi Minh City and find women fully engaged with their household finances - at a bare minimum they are on top of what money is coming in and going out. Modern finance is relatively recent in Asia but a surprising number of women understand the Time Value of Money concept, despite never having formally learned it. Ditto Return on Investment. And many learned early on to live within their means because easy credit wasn't available. This matters because these concepts underpin long term financial security.
Why is most of Asia different? Asian wealth is relatively new and built on the back of post war hardship which shaped and hardwired habits. Most of Asia does not have the luxury of generous social safety nets nor silly chattering class taboos. Most of Asia values education for all, especially math, though opportunities for women have not been equal. Always pragmatic, necessity is the mother of invention, or in this case self-education.
Take long suffering Japan, besieged by the largest dual stock market and real estate crash in modern history followed by 25 years of a recession. Yet Japan has a median net worth of US$123,000 per adult compared to America's US$55,000. Japan educated its women but didn't give them opportunities. Regardless, it's Japanese women who became canny speculators in global currency and interest rate markets, so much so that these Mrs. Watanabes actually move markets. It should also be said that it takes a Black Belt in home economics to strategize through long term economic chaos and come out smelling like a wealthy country with, as yet, the longest lifespan on record.
Then there's China, where wealth is new and hard to track, but 6% of the billionaire population in China is women compared to less than 1% in the West. Notably their wealth is predominantly self-made unlike the more dynastic West (rich irony indeed). For this, we can partially thank Mao who stated "Women Hold Up Half The Sky" - a rally cry to enlist the entire productive capacity of a country, uprooting gender bias that had prevailed for millennia. It was no longer "odd" that a woman could drive a truck, carry a gun or, more recently, make her own fortune.
Which leads us to trading hubs - Shanghai, Ho Chi Minh City, Surabaya etc. - fabulous equal opportunity employers. Women who grow up participating in and around trading hubs have been fully financially aware for generations. The activity of trade builds skills necessary for success in fields like scrapping, real estate, finance and entrepreneurship. Over 50% of Asia's entrepreneurial women are worth $12 million or more, compared to 33% in the West. Singapore's impressive female entrepreneurs on average are worth $6.4 million, much higher than an average male entrepreneur in the West who is worth $4.8 million*.
A wide number of variables play into female financial empowerment here, but you cannot ignore Asia's collective appetite to learn which is voracious - particularly when it comes to money. Of all the emails that I receive from readers of my book - written with expatriates in mind - 90% are from Asia or they are ethnically Asian. Many of these women are already in the financial driver's seat in their households or seeking to take a lead in order to manage risks. Westerners touch base when they are already in crisis-mode, which unfortunately only further reinforces a sense of victimhood around money.
It's true that Asia has its own financially draining taboos and superstitions. It's also true that Asian family values still keep women in a straight jacket in any number of ways, least of all because tradition means passing on wealth in a way that favors men. But I suspect it is this very real vulnerability that is the impetus behind Asian women taking greater control over their financial futures. And that is a great thing; show me a financially literate mother and I will show you financially literate children. Show me a financially literate child and I will show you an adult who actively contributes to economic growth. While we all benefit from economic growth, Asia's financially literate women will realize levels of wealth and power that their Western counterparts never dared to dream of.
Andrea Kennedy is a Singapore based Investment Professional, CFP and Author of Own Your Financial Freedom.