For Gen Z, age-old question: Who pays for dates… Wage gap, tradition factor in

At work and on social media, where young people spend much of their personal time, they like to emphasize equity and equality. When it comes to romance and courtship, young people – specifically women and men in heterosexual relationships – seem to be following the same dating rules older generations grew up learning. Contemporary research, popular culture and conversations 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 do on dates. And there seems to be an expectation that they should.
Some progressive defenders of the norm cite the persistent gender wage gap, the fact that women pay more for reproductive products and apparel than men, and the greater amount of time women spend preparing for dates to comport with societal norms. Kala Lundahl lives in New York and works at a recruiting firm. She typically matches with people through dating apps, with the total cost of the date, usually over drinks, coming to around $80. Lundahl, 24, always offers to split the cheque but expects the man to pay. Lundahl’s reasoning: The person who makes more money – usually the man – should cough up.
Scott Bowen, a 24-year-old accountant, said he always pays for drinks, meals and coffees on dates. Usually that winds up being $70 to $100 per outing. The conversation over who pays lasts a split second – from the time the waiter sets down the cheque to when Bowen reaches over and says, “I’ll grab that”. When Bowen was growing up, his parents made it clear to him that he should pay for dates.
In a paper published in 2023 in Psychological Reports, a peer-reviewed journal, a team of researchers surveyed 552 heterosexual college students in Wilmington, North Carolina, and asked them whether they, as a man or a woman, typically paid more. The researchers found that young men paid for all or most of the dates around 90% of the time, while women paid only about 2% (they split the cost around 8% of the time). On subsequent dates, splitting the cheque was more common, though men still paid a majority of the time while women rarely did. Surprisingly, views on gender norms didn’t make much of a difference: On average, both men and women in the sample expected the man to pay, whether they had more traditional views of gender roles or more progressive ones.
Part of the reason the norm may persist is that dates are inherently awkward, researcher Shanhong Luo said. Once two people make it past the initial, awkward courtship, navigating the trickiness of date financing tends to be easier. When one person pays, man or woman, they find joy, likening the act of paying to gift-giving.

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