Why Are Men Still Paying for Dates?

Even professedly "modern" women still expect men to pay for their meal.

BY KATE HAKALA

Ah, the tell-tale Offering. That moment when a woman feigns to open her wallet at the end of the date, thumbing through her purse slowly and cautiously, awaiting a man to take her arm and say, “No, I’ve got this.” At least, that’s the picture television and movies have presented us, both pre- and post- feminist revolution. According to a new study titled “Who Pays for Dates? Following versus Challenging Conventional Gender Norms,” lead by Dr. David Frederick of Chapman University, that depiction might not be far from reality. 

The data from a study of over 17,000 participants showed that 84 percent of men and 58 percent of women reported that men pay for most expenses, even after dating for a period of time.

These statistics might seem high for today's society; aren't we the Lean-In generation of women, taking over the workforce and the private sphere alike? That's what we preach, but belief, expectation, and actual practice seem to be significantly different when it comes to who picks up the tab on a night out.

57 percent of women claim they offer to help pay, but 39 percent admitted they hoped men would decline their cash. And an even more surprising 44 percent of women were bothered when men expected women to help pay. These numbers are in line with a 2008 study done in the UK, which showed a similar reticence for women to pick up the check and a trend for men to accept that:

 

                                      

That's in line with our cultural narrative about providing, protection, and seduction. Frederick commented by email that most men still aren't satisfied with that trend, not in this socially transformative era. About two-thirds of men eventually hope women will help pay for dates and 44 percent say they'd break up with a girl if she never offered to support herself. The inclination towards equality is a modern value that's changed in the last 50 years. The guilt about asking for cash? That's all tradition.

"Most men were taught growing up that men are expected to be the providers and pay for dates, so many men (76%) feel guilty about accepting women's money to pay for dating expenses," Frederick said. The modern man is adjusting to the 21st Century working woman and has developed a sort of tapered chivalry to accommodate the change. A structured chivalry that dissipates over time and translates into a truly egalitarian partnership. “So what ends up happening is you have about 25% of couples starting to split costs of dating in the first month, 25% in months 1-3, 25% in 4-6, and 25% of couples where the man is still paying all expenses after 6 months.”

We're in an age where rapidly changing gender roles and expected formalities are clashing. When it comes to the end of the date, as Frederick poignantly remarked, there is no “clear script to follow”. 

The results of the study show, in fact, that we're still really confused about the exchange between sex and paying for someone's dinner. Interestingly, younger men and women are more likely to see the sexual expectations implied in a monetary transaction:

 

Older women ages 56-65 are the most confident that picking up a bill erases the sexual implication of a date:

 

But there are hidden costs of dating, some so implicit in gender that they might not be factored into the typical dinner-and-a-movie tally. When I approached Frederick about the concealed cost of predate expenses like clothing, gas, make up, and other cosmetics, he agreed, but didn’t have any stats. He did note that expectations of appearance could be a considerable factor in how one spends before a date: “One of my friends went on a date recently and felt she needed to get her toes and nails polished beforehand, so appearance norms might raise costs of dates for women in a way that isn't readily apparent on the actual date.” According to a survey done by Match.com in 2011, 58% of men are spending over 50 dollars on a date in the first few weeks of dating. That’s a lot of green, but clothes, waxing, make up, and birth control might be other silent costs that women are expected to bear--and they wouldn't show up on a bar tab.

One last interesting point Dr. Frederick made is that this study implies that if a woman opts for a man who always pays and expects him to, he'll generally always pay for her throughout the relationship. That can change for up to a six month period, but chances are the first few times we throw down that wallet, we're cementing the dynamic of our love lives. 

When People Started Sharing Tabs in Relationships Longer Than Six Months:

       

 

 

Graph and data courtesy of: Frederick, D. A., Lever, J., & Hertz, R. (2013).  Paying for dates: Who follows and who challenges traditional gender norms.  American Sociological Association Conference, New York, NY.

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