During a recent dinner at a cozy Upper Manhattan bar, I was confronted with an age-old question about gender norms. Over bowls of ramen and sips of gin cocktails, my date and I had a debate: Who should pay for dates?
My date, a 27-year-old woman I connected with on Hinge, said gender equality doesn’t mean men and women should pay the same when dating. Women, she says, earn less than men in the workplace, spend more time preparing for outings and pay more for reproductive care.
Once the date was over we split the bill. But our discussion was emblematic of a tension in modern dating. At work and on social media, where young people spend much of their personal time, they like to emphasize fairness and equality. When it comes to romance and dating, young people — especially women and men in heterosexual relationships — seem to follow the same dating rules that their parents and older generations learned growing up.
Contemporary research, popular culture, and conversations I’ve had with more than a dozen young Americans suggest that a long-standing norm still holds true: men tend to foot the bill more than women during appointment. And we seem to expect them to be.
The “Pay for the First Date” Dance
Some progressive defenders of the standard cite persistence wage gap between men and womenand the fact that women pay more than men for reproductive products and clothing and spend more time preparing for dates in order to behave in accordance with societal norms.
Kala Lundahl lives in New York and works at a recruitment company. She typically meets people for dates through apps like Hinge, with the total cost of the date, usually over drinks, coming to around $80. On the first date, Ms. Lundahl, 24, always offered to split the check but expected the man to pay — and was met with resistance when she offered to pay.
Ms. Lundahl said if the date went well, they could continue to a second location, usually a cheaper place where she was more likely to pay. On a second date, she said, she would be more insistent on paying the entire check, or splitting it. Ms. Lundahl’s reasoning comes from her belief that the person who asked out — usually the man — should pay for the date, and that the person who made more money — also usually the man – should spit.
“A few guys get a little stiff when I offer to pay,” Ms. Lundahl said. “You could tell they’re not comfortable with the idea.”
Scott Bowen, a 24-year-old accountant in Charlotte, North Carolina, said he always pays for drinks, meals and coffee on dates. Usually this works out to $70-100 per ride. The conversation about who pays usually lasts a split second — from the time the waiter drops the check to the time Mr. Bowen holds out his hand and says, “I’m going to record this,” he said.
When Mr. Bowen was growing up, his parents made it clear to him that he had to pay for dates when dating a woman. He acknowledged that he wanted to see the status quo change to a more equal division, but he said he was uncomfortable broaching the subject on dates: Our conversation was one of few times he had discussed the matter with another. person
Brendan Foley, a government worker in Washington, D.C., said that in his experience with men, the check was usually split. When someone paid, it was often the oldest man or the person who earned the most money. But discussions about money on dates don’t bother him.
“I think there are more honest and simpler conversations than dancing in heterosexual relationships,” Mr. Foley, 24, said.
The continuing tradition of paying men
Shanhong Luo, a professor at Fayetteville State University, studies the factors that underlie attraction between romantic partners, including the norms that govern relationships. In a document Published in 2023 in Psychological Reports, a peer-reviewed journal, Dr. Luo and a team of researchers surveyed 552 heterosexual college students in Wilmington, North Carolina, and asked them whether they expected men or Women pay for dates – and whether they, like a man or a woman, usually pay more.
Researchers found that young men paid for all or most dates about 90 percent of the time, while women only paid about 2 percent (they split about 8 percent of the time). In later dates, check splitting was more common, although men still paid the majority of the time while women rarely did. Nearly 80 percent of men expected them to pay on the first date, while just over half of women (55 percent) expected men to pay.
Surprisingly, opinions on gender norms did not make much difference: on average, men and women in the sample expected the man to pay, had a more traditional view of gender roles or a more progressive vision.
“The results clearly showed that the traditional model is still there,” Dr. Luo said.
The enduring tradition of men paying for women may seem like a harmless artifact. But in a relationship, such acts do not exist in a vacuum.
Psychologists distinguish between two forms of sexism: “hostile sexism,” defined by the belief that women are inferior to men, and “benevolent sexism,” defined by the belief that it is the duty of men to protect women. But the second can give way to the first.
“The notion of chivalry is framed in very positive terms,” said Campbell Leaper, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “But over time, if people get stuck in these roles, it comes at a cost. »
In a 2016 study, Dr. Leaper and his co-author, Alexa Paynter, surveyed undergraduates in California, asking them how they rated a number of traditional courtship gestures, including men paying for dates. A majority of young men and women said men should pay for dates, but for men the link between this view and more hostile views of women was particularly strong.
Dr. Leaper, who has taught a course on gender development for more than 30 years, said his students today are more liberal on a range of issues related to gender identity, sexuality and norms governing relationships. But her students often defend the principle that men pay for dates, or say they hadn’t even thought about the connection between that and sexism.
“It’s quite surprising to them, and it’s something they hadn’t really thought about before,” Dr. Leaper said.
Part of the reason the norm may persist among young people is that dating is inherently awkward, Dr. Luo said. Even for young people with a strong commitment to financial independence – whether male or female – the pressure of an age-old norm can be felt.
“No matter what you believe in, you will do what the standard dictates,” Dr. Luo said.
Easier as relationships deepen
Kent Barnhill said he paid for about 80 percent of the dates he went on, usually with people he met on dating apps. Mr. Barnhill, 27, identifies as a feminist and is politically progressive, but he said his upbringing in a wealthy, conservative family in South Florida shaped his practice of insisting on paying for dates, especially at the beginning of relationships.
“At the first meeting, I always establish in advance that I want to pay,” said Mr. Barnhill, a data analyst in the Washington, D.C., public school system. “The fact that I pay more doesn’t bother me.”
Zoe Miller, 23, grew up in a liberal family in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. An experience on a college date shaped his insistence on splitting the bill. While her date was in the bathroom, a waiter came and asked Ms. Miller how the two wanted to pay. She said she wanted to split the bill, so the waiter came back with two checks. When Ms. Miller’s date returned, he was furious. He wanted to pay for the meeting.
Now, she says, “I absolutely refuse to not split the check.”
Ms. Miller and Mr. Barnhill began dating after meeting through a mutual friend. The couple recently had a meal at a fine Italian restaurant in Washington’s Mount Vernon neighborhood, and Mr. Barnhill had paid for it.
Ms. Miller initially had difficulty accepting that Mr. Barnhill would pay the check in full. But the combination of an income difference — she had fewer shifts at a smoothie shop — and seeing the gesture as genuine, rather than an expression of power, warmed her to the idea. . Since this release, they have tried to share their dates, using the Splitwise app.
Once two people get past the awkward initial courtship, it becomes easier to navigate the difficulties of dating financing. When a person pays, man or woman, they experience joy, comparing the act of paying to a gift.
Andrew Tuchler and Miranda Zhang are a married couple in Los Angeles who met in college. Going out on expensive dates wasn’t financially feasible for them, so they opted for what college couples often do: hanging out over meals in the cafeteria and at club events.
Mr. Tuchler and Ms. Zhang, both 26, said early experience in a relationship not defined by money helped them navigate the challenges of talking about and spending money. The couple shares their finances, but when it comes to dating, they alternate on who pays.
Mr Tuchler said he appreciated it as an act of service – even going the extra step to tell the waiter what she was going to eat. Ms. Zhang said she appreciated the gesture and liked to return the favor.