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Paying For Dates: Are dating couples challenging or adhering to gender norms?

How do you handle the check when you first start dating someone?
How do you handle the check when you first start dating someone?
Roey Ahram/Flickr

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Most men are still paying for dates, but in reality many are wishing women would chip in sometimes.

According to a new study presented at the American Sociology Association, 64 percent of men believed women should pick up the tab from time to time. At the same time, 39 percent of women hoped men would not ask them to contribute at all.

"Most [men] did not expect 50-50, they just didn't want to feel like a shmuck at the end of the evening or that they were out with some princess," said Janet Lever, professor of sociology at Cal State Los Angeles. "They would end up being the sole provider instead of one of those many many modern couples where the man and women share the provider role. That's what men are looking for. Life is a litmus test, if she hasn't offered to pay anything in a month of dating, he is going to be wary."

The ritual of men paying for all the outings dates back to when most jobs were not accessible to women. Today, however, men and women are both equally in the workforce. The study looks at how this dynamic shift of gender roles impacts the dating realm.

"About a quarter of the women insist on paying right from the start and that's a good social change, I think. But the women are happy with this balance," said Lever. "Women in general feel that they have the short end of the stick when it comes to privilege in our society...They're reluctant to give that up since on average they get paid less, on average they do more housework, more child care, so maybe this seems like just desserts."

Do women want equality in dating too? The study shows that younger college-educated men and women were more likely to share the costs of dating. In addition, the study also shows that sharing the cost of dates eases the pressure for women to reciprocate sexually if they don't want to. 

"That's exactly why women should be paying for themselves at least in part some of the time, because there is no such thing as  a free lunch," said Lever. "Eventually, if he's been paying for everything, it does tilt the power dynamic. They're not really seeing the big picture of supporting what is called benevolent sexism — women getting treated and put on a pedestal — still makes the male the provider and the dominant in the relationship. "

Who should pay for the first date? Should men always pay? How have the ‘rules’ of dating changed? Does it matter who makes more money?


Janet Lever, Professor  of Sociology at Cal State Los Angeles and the co-author of the study, “Who Pays for Dates”