Money getting in the way this V-Day?

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Who should pay on a first date is an evergreen argument played out in pubs, living rooms and workplaces across the nation every day, and as a consequence, reflected in the media regularly. But ethically and economically, what is the correct answer?  

Credit Karma consulted Professor Shireen Kanji, gender equality specialist at Brunel University, for her insights into the complexities of gender when it comes to dating and money. Using her experience of the role of money in modern relationships, we’ve created a Split the Bill Calculator for couples looking to divide the bill fairly this Valentine’s Day.

Shireen Kanji, gender equality specialist at Brunel University, discusses Credit Karma’s ‘Split the Bill’ campaign

Cultural scripts – collectively held views around how men and women should behave and what they should do on a date – exert a strong influence, as much research shows. Old-fashioned stereotypes about gender roles continue to reflect ideals of male dominance. Thus, there has been surprisingly limited change in dating behaviours since the 1950s, even with the advent of internet dating.

It still seems to be largely the case that in the 2020s, men are meant to take the lead, while appropriate behaviour for women is to wait passively for a man to choose them. Cultural scripts operate at the societal and group levels while interpersonal scripts guide how men and women should interact with one another. Interpersonal scripts dictate that men are meant to make the moves and women to act as gatekeepers.

Even if there are cases that challenge this type of gendered interaction, they are insufficient to challenge the dominant script that on first dates men should ask the woman out, make the plans, pay and, where the situation is inviting, initiate sex. Women are meant to focus on their appearance, which is necessary in the game of dating because physical appearance is more important to men than women in date and partner selection. Women are also meant to make conversation, enjoy the man’s company, and act as gatekeepers by accepting or rejecting the man’s sexual advances.

These patterns of behaviour in dating set the scene for the unequal power relations which seem to continue as dating moves into relationships. In the dating context money has a social meaning which goes beyond the share of the dinner that it buys.  

First dates serve the purpose of reducing uncertainty by allowing people to get to know a potential partner. But the persistence of stereotypes over who should pay, and in particular the unspoken nature of what they are paying for, hinder getting to know the other person. Credit Karma’s Bill Splitting Calculator helps to break the taboo over speaking about money.

We can argue over who should pay what and which factors should be included in considerations of who should pay the bill, which is exactly the aim – to start to speak about what has previously been hidden and to discuss what is fair. If one person works in a job that pays less well than the other, we can start to speak about what a fair contribution might look like. If a woman needs to spend more on her travel because of security concerns or eats less at the meal, then daters and couples can start to unravel whether this is fair or what they want. 

Even after decades of progress in women’s paid work participation, men still tend to out-earn women in opposite sex couple relationships. Women are less likely to progress to the higher ranks of organisations which limits their pay progression. Moreover, occupations that have a high concentration of women, such as health and social care, tend to be relatively worse paid. Caring responsibilities, particularly, having children, bring a radical shift in the relative earnings of each partner in a couple.

Considerable research shows that the gender pay gap tends to increase with age and has a distinct pattern, widening as women get older and then narrowing again over time. The gender pay gap is diminishing for younger generations, which suggests that the dynamics of power in heterosexual relationships amongst younger people may be shifting. But past experience tells us that today’s younger women are also likely to experience a pattern of widening gender pay gaps as they get older, particularly if they have children.