A study published in the journal Psychological Reports found that traditional gender norms continue in dating culture, with men almost always paying the whole bill on first dates and paying more than women for subsequent dates – participants also held this expectation of men. Gender role attitudes had little to do with actual practice, but did influence payment expectations.
Heterosexual dating behavior is arguably quite gendered. Men and women may rely on their gender role concepts to guide how to behave in such situations. Women tend to assume a reactive or “gatekeeper” role in romantic relationships, while men adopt a more active role and initiate the first move. In the context of traditional dating, a man would be expected to ask out a woman, make plans, pay for expenses, and initiate any sexual interaction, whereas a woman’s role would be to accept or reject his advances.
Despite strong promotions of equality and diversity in the 21st century, with millennials witnessing these movements more so than any other generation, it is possible gender role differences persist in romantic dating. In this work, Hao Wu and colleagues explored sex differences in date payment, as well as expectations surrounding which partner ought to pay more.
A total of 552 heterosexual college students were recruited from a large, public, southeastern university in the United States. The overwhelming majority of participants (i.e., 97%) reported a yearly income of $25,000 USD or less. Approximately half the participants reported being currently single.
Participants completed a measure examining attitudes toward traditional masculinity, assessing for both machismo (e.g., characterized by aggressiveness) and caballerismo (e.g., characterized by chivalry). Participants also responded to items exploring attitudes toward women (e.g., “A woman should be free as a man to propose marriage”, “Women should worry less about their rights and more about becoming good wives and mothers”). Then, participants completed a shortened version of the Bem Sex Role inventory, exploring masculine and feminine traits (i.e., instrumentality vs. expressivity).
Lastly, participants responded to four sets of questions. The first set focused on payment experiences on the first date (e.g., “Who paid the bill for your first date?”) while the second focused on questions relating to payment experiences on subsequent dates. The third and fourth sets assessed participants’ payment expectations (i.e., who should pay for the date) on the first and subsequent dates, respectively.
Wu and colleagues found that men almost always paid the entire bill on first dates and continued paying significantly more so in subsequent dates. On average, participants also expected men to pay more for both first and subsequent dates, though this effect was less pronounced among women. Men expected the male partner to pay on dates more so than women did. As well, “the more individuals embraced antifeminism and positive masculinity attitudes, the more they would expect the male partner to pay for first and subsequent dates.”
Women expected less payment from their partner for both the first and subsequent dates. So while women let their partner pay for date expenses, they tend to prefer a shared approach – particularly for subsequent dates. Further, regardless of gendered traits and attitudes, men tend to pay more for dates (particularly, the first).
Overall, these findings reveal a gendered pattern in dating payment behaviors and expectations among millennials, suggesting that despite the continued support for egalitarianism in the workplace, many are returning to conventional ideologies regarding gender roles.
The authors note a few limitations. This research only retained heterosexual participants for analyses, and thus, cannot speak to payment norms or the role of gender attitudes on payment behaviors in non-heterosexual dating. As well, given data was collected in the southeast, it is possible that traditional southern culture influenced the results, limiting the generalizability of the current findings. Lastly, given the majority of participants were Caucasian and Christian (81% and 70% respectively), it is important to replicate these findings in a more diverse sample.
The study, “Gender Roles in the Millennium: Who Pays and Is Expected to Pay for Romantic Dates?”, was authored by Hao Wu, Shanhong Luo, Annelise Klettner, Tyler White, and Kate Albritton.