During the past 50 years, women have made great strides towards equality in the workplace. But when it comes to dating between men and women, both report that men still pay for the majority of expenses at the beginning of a relationship. In a day and age when women are increasingly financially independent, why are they still not picking up the dinner tab?
Porscha Kazmierzak is one of the many women who still think that men should pay on a first date, even though she identifies as a hard-core feminist.
“If somebody offers to pay for my meal, I’m thinking this person is considerate and they are maybe going to take care of me,” she says. “If I insist on paying on a first date, it’s because I’m not interested.”
The tradition of paying for dates is a “short cut to figure out what the other person is thinking,” says Rita Seabrook, a PhD student in women’s studies and psychology at the University of Michigan.
Seabrook says when a man pays for dinner, it sends clues to the other person such as, “I like you” or “I want us to be more than friends.” It makes things seem comfortable and certain when dating can feel so uncomfortable and uncertain. So the tradition has stuck around. But so has its other—more subtle—message.
“Men are expected to make a lot of money,” says Seabrook. “And women are expected to value men who make lots of money.”
Evan Major used to think these ideas never really affected him. Then he lost his job at the same time he was dating someone new. When they went out, sometimes he would pay as much as he could. Other times, his girlfriend would cover his half. This challenged his sense of self.
“There is such a tight link between financial security and the identity of a man” he says.
But after the beginning of a relationship, men and women usually start to do things differently.
“Couples start to split somewhere in the first six months” says Dr. David Frederick, a professor of psychology at Chapman University.
But when it comes to changing gender norms, things move slowly.
“Causing those to change, I think, is a very long process that we’ve seen starting over the past 50 years,” says Frederick.
But Frederick says as long as we continue to see a shift towards more gender equality in the workplace, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t also see the same shift at the dinner table.
Note: Language in this story was changed after its publication to avoid the suggestion that the pay gap between men and women has been eliminated.