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Chivalry and Dating Don’t Mix

by Peter Gabriel

A new study explores the question of who should pay for dates and the results confirm what all recent research has found: Both men and women believe men should pay for dates. In fact, men believe this even more strongly than women do.

This is illogical and unfair – to everyone! Chivalry and dating clash in today’s dating marketplace.

Nerdwallet asked 1,000 people who had been living with a partner for at least six months how they handled finances.

Key Findings

1. 82% of men and 73% of women believe men should pick up the check on the first date.

Just 14% of men and 24% of women believe the bill should be split. 4% believe men should pay nothing!

This isn’t as lopsided as it sounds, owing to biological sex differences. Joe Pinsker at The Atlantic points out that according to Steve Petrow at the Washington Post, gay men and women use this rule where there are no sex differences: “You invite, you pay.”

For straight couples, the territory is trickier to navigate. Women prefer that men initiate romance. In fact, women generally admire men who take the initiative in all sorts of ways. Most women are happy to share expenses, but they want that critical first date to be “He invites, he pays.” Most men share this view.

The problem is that it bumps up hard against economic reality – women are outperforming men academically and professionally. Gender equity means equal opportunity, and we’ve got that. Problem is, our gain is their loss. This means chivalry is 100% extinct, and any female demand for it is unreasonable and unfair.


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Unless you’ve got an explicit understanding that he’s going to make all the dough and you’re going to keep his shirts clean, you should be sharing half the expenses. First date’s on him but after that you need to step up.

To be fair, the number of moms who are primary breadwinners is rising sharply, and it’s not just single moms:

Breadwinner moms

2. Just 41% of established couples report that they split the cost or take turns paying. 

Personally, I’m not a fan of splitting checks. I don’t even do it when I go out with women friends. Taking turns is a nice way of creating a cycle of generosity and reciprocity, and it all evens out over time.

So I’m not surprised couples don’t want to go halfsies all the time, but I am surprised they don’t at least take turns. On the bright side, 25% of couples shared expenses “right from the start.”

Women Are Ambivalent About Paying

In a the 2013 study Who Pays For Dates? researcher David Frederick found that:

  • 39% of women wished men would not reject their offers to pay.


  • 44% were bothered when men expected them to pay.

But So Are Men

  • 44% of men said they would break up with a woman who never pays.


  • 76% feel guilty accepting money from women.

Clearly there’s some major adaptation required due to changing gender roles, and these contradictory feelings about money are going to take a while to shake out. David Frederick:

“As social roles start to change, people often embrace the changes that make their lives easier, but resist the changes that make their lives more difficult. Who pays for dates … is one arena where women may be resisting gender changes more than men.”

Frederick believes that current dating norms incentivize women not to offer to pay for dates. This is not to say such behavior is admirable, but it does support the claim that incentives drive human behavior. There’s a corollary for men as well:

“This same logic might explain why men who are okay stepping down as breadwinners aren’t as eager to step up to the demands of parenting and homemaking.”

Demographic Differences

Not surprisingly, the following characteristics are associated with more progressive behavior re shared expenses:

  • Men aged 26-35
  • Women aged 18-35
  • College degree or higher
1950 wedding

We miss Honeymoon Cystitis!

Embracing Egalitarian Relationships

The egalitarian model has replaced the old norm of hypergamous mating, where the husband was generally of higher social status than his wife. He was usually better educated and often the sole provider for the family.

Contrary to the tedious and repetitive claims of those who favor “bring backery”, hypergamy was never a “Female Imperative.” Rather, it was a model embraced by both women and men during a time when women had limited opportunities and were forced to rely on males for provisioning. If anything, the imperative was male-directed.

Writer Gina Barecca finds chivalry insulting:

“Chivalry is the opposite of good manners. It’s infantilizing. It’s contempt masquerading as politeness. The chivalrous guy is establishing roles; he is the protector, you are Limoges.”

I wouldn’t go that far – I think most men are genuinely interested in being generous and having a successful date. But I think she’s right about roles; it’s a power dynamic at work, even if unconsciously.

Shifting Preferences

Today women enjoy financial independence, which makes the hypergamous model impossible, if quaint. Here’s a look at how men’s preferences have shifted toward egalitarian marriage in the last 75 years:

What Men Want in a Wife

Source: New York Times

Marriage scholar Stephanie Coontz:

“If an American woman wanted a lasting marriage in the 1950s, she was well advised to choose a man who believed firmly in traditional values and male breadwinning. Unconventional men — think beatniks — were a bad risk. Today, however, traditionally minded men are actually more likely to divorce — or to be divorced — than their counterparts with more egalitarian ideas about gender roles.

Over the past 30 years, egalitarian values have become increasingly important to relationship success…While marriage rates have fallen for most women since 1980, those for the highest earning women have increased, to 64 percent in 2010 from 58 percent in 1980. Women in the top 15 percent of earners are now more likely to be married than their lower-earning counterparts.”

According to the Pew Research Center three-quarters of adults under 30 “aspire to what’s known in the social sciences as an egalitarian marriage, meaning that both spouses work and take care of the house and that the relationship is built on equal power, shared interests and friendship.”

Date Rape Increases When Men Pay

Finally, men too often feel that paying for dinner is a quid pro quo transaction. One study – You Owe Me – reveals that men are more likely to feel that they are owed sex in exchange for dinner. Another study on date rape found that “rape was rated as significantly more justifiable if the man paid all the dating expenses rather than splitting them with the woman.” (Interestingly, they also found rape was more justifiable if the woman asked the man out – another good reason for women to let men initiate.)

Any way you look at it, there is no good reason for women to expect men to pay their way, and that includes dating. By all means, demand that your partner help out around the house and share in the parenting. It’s more than time to throw out the vestiges of an anachronistic chivalrous code, which was implemented to protect society’s weak and defenseless. The American woman today is hardly that.

What’s your policy? If you like for men to pay your way, what is your reasoning? If you insist on paying your own way, how do you find that men respond?

If you’re a guy, what are your thoughts on this subject?

What works? What doesn’t? Please share your own observations to help women and men navigate these changes!