How could I not comment on this article from the weekend's Style section in the New York Times:
Putting Money on the Table
I've told a few stories here about female friends of mine who were dating men who made less money. There were some reader comments on those posts saying that the experiences I described were atypical, but in New York and other cities, they appear to be more and more common:
For the first time, women in their 20s who work full time in several American cities — New York, Chicago, Boston and Minneapolis — are earning higher wages than men in the same age range, according to a recent analysis of 2005 census data by Andrew Beveridge, a sociology professor at Queens College in New York.It's clear that our society's stereotypes about men taking care of women still run very strong and deep. But what struck me the most about the stories in the article is how hard these things are to talk about. One woman mentions a boyfriend who straightforwardly addressed his discomfort about her making more money. But in other cases, the subject is addressed in an oblique manner, through hints about going over one's budget, or by hiding price tags on expensive clothing.
For instance, the median income of women age 21 to 30 in New York who are employed full time was 17 percent higher than that of comparable men.
Professor Beveridge said the gap is largely driven by a gulf in education: 53 percent of women employed full time in their 20s were college graduates, compared with 38 percent of men. Women are also more likely to have graduate degrees. “They have more of everything,” Professor Beveridge said.
The shift is playing out in new, unanticipated ways on the dating front. Women are encountering forms of hostility they weren’t prepared to meet, and are trying to figure out how to balance pride in their accomplishments against their perceived need to bolster the egos of the men they date.
A lot of young women “are of two minds,” said Stephanie Coontz, director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families, a research organization. “On one hand, they’re proud of their achievements, and they think they want a man who shares house chores and child care. But on the other hand they’re scared by their own achievement, and they’re a little nervous having a man who won’t be the main breadwinner. These are old tapes running in their head: ‘This is how you get a man.’”
YOUNG affluent women say they are learning to advertise their good fortune in a manner very different from their male counterparts. For men, it is accepted, even desirable, to flaunt their high status. Not so for many women.
“Very, very early in a date,” said Anna Rosenmann, 28, who founded a company called Eco Consulting LA, in Los Angeles, and earns up to $150,000 a year, “a man will drop comments on how much his sales team had made for the year, which meant his bonus was blah, blah, blah.”
But, she said, “that’s not how we were raised.”
Instead, she said, she starts out dates being discreet. “I don’t talk about myself,” she said. “When people ask me, I’m going to be very honest. But I definitely don’t say, ‘My name’s Anna, I’m 28 and I own a business.’ ”
Ms. Rosenmann said that dating considerably older men helps her avoid innuendos from younger men who feel threatened by her professional success. She said that when she has gone out at night with men her own age and has to turn in early to be fresh for work, they have commented , “Oh, Anna’s an adult, she has a real job.”
There is also the issue of how you define what is really important to you in a relationship. Nowadays, it seems a bit uncool to admit that wealth might be high on one's list of preferred qualities in a mate. As a commenter on my Bubbles story put it,
After all, if it's OK to not date a person because they are unambitious, broke, and/or have poor money management skills/values (and I think it is OK and necessary to refuse such potential partners), then why is it such a crime to seek a person with the opposite traits?Men don't seem to have a problem dating women who make tiny amounts of money or none at all, as long as they have other qualities-- that's just the way things have always been. Women seem to be more conflicted about it:
Michael R. Cunningham, a psychologist who teaches in the communication department at the University of Louisville, conducted a survey of college women to see if, upon graduation, they would prefer to settle down with a high school teacher who has short workdays, summers off and spare energy to help raise children, or with a surgeon who earns eight times as much but works brutal hours. Three-quarters of the women said they would choose the teacher.
The point, Professor Cunningham said, was that young professionally oriented women have no problem dating down if the man is secure, motivated in his own field and emotionally supportive.
At least, that’s what their responses are in surveys. Talk about the subject with women a bit older — those who have been out of college long enough to be more hardened — and what you hear is ambivalence, if not downright hostility, about the income disparity.
In one couple that I knew, the woman insisted the income disparity itself wasn't the issue-- it was the man's lack of direction and ambition in his life, and the fact that he hated his job as a barista but was lazy and clueless when it came to trying to find something that better suited him. But what if he had a job that paid $200,000 a year and was complaining that he hated it but kept procrastinating about making a change? Would that have bothered her just as much?
Relationships and money, always such a complicated and fascinating issue...