Monday, September 24, 2007

"Dating Down"

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.

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.”
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.
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...


Kris said...

I wonder how many women find it strange to bring up their salaries and job accomplishments in general (not just in the dating world). I agree it's something we weren't raised to speak of often.

GREAT post.

Anonymous said...

I knew as soon as I saw the article there would have to be a post on this one =).

The thing that struck me about the article was how the tone seemed to be about women and especially men being uncomfortable with the abstract notion of women making more (and this fits with the interpretation that as long as its not tied to lack of ambition / unhappiness / inability to handle money, it's not AS big of a problem)... but a surprising number of the examples of women explaining how it caused problems seemed to involve things like "I want to go to nice places... and I don't want to always be the one paying." Even the "some nights I pick the activity and pay, an some nights you do... and your nights can be the cheap ones if you so choose, but we do get to do the expensive things I like when I chose/pay" compromise (which is my favorite) seemed to be inadequate.

This struck me as odd, somehow. I mean, I can understand "intellectually, I don't mind an imbalance and alternating cheap/expensive etc... but somehow I have trouble feeling like he's my equal, even though I know that's not how I want to feel about it". But "I want to date someone who will do expensive things with me... and pay for them" is a totally different matter. This isn't a case where women have a harder time doing what men have been doing for years (dating people who make less than them), this is a case where women are wanting to maintain the pattern they're used to (men pay greater than or equal to half) and are having trouble doing that when they're already high earners.

Am I reading this wrong?

MEG said...

Wow, great post. This is such an interesting and complex issue. I think it's definitly more acceptable (and expected) for men to subtly or directly let women know how much they earn, how successful they are, etc. Men want to tell and women want to know. But as a female I do the opposite--I would never mention anything that suggested my net worth or income to a potential partner; indeed my own BF has no idea that my net worth exceeds his.

Of course I love to chat about investing strategy and financial goals, but many men (unless they outpace you in income/assets) feel insecure/inadequate if they realize you are way ahead of them in those categories. They want to feel capable like we want to feel beautiful--and undermining either of those desired feelings, right or wrong, is NOT the way to hold a person's affection!

Anonymous said...

I found parts of the womens' arguments annoying:

"Ms. Rowland, like some other women interviewed, said that she has come to the conclusion that it would be easier to date someone in the same economic bracket."

Well, duh! Ms. Rowland was miffed when her boyfriend booked (and paid) for tickets in economy rather than business. C'mon Ms. Rowland! What did you expect? The dude doesn't make as much money as you. If you don't like it, then find a rich guy to date... which it sounds like was the conclusion she ultimately came to.

I can understand not wanting to financially support a deadbeat boyfriend and I agree that it is unacceptable for a partner of either gender to expect the other to pay for everything without that being a mutual agreement. However, if the guy doesn't have as much money as is just trying to live within his means by eating at diners. cooking at home, and / or flying economy, then respect him for that or date men with more money. Just don't whine about it.

Anonymous said...

What is the reason that the man is making less money than the woman? If he choose a less lucrative career such as school teacher or working in a nonprofit. Then he is not lacking ambition or drive. Also, I think it is admirable that he chose a career base on passion instead of money.

However, if he is a slacker working at Starbucks, then it's whole different story.

Ms. M&P said...

This is an interesting topic. Unfortunately, I don’t make that much so I’ve never been in the position of these women! I can kind of relate because for a brief time in college, I felt I had to “dumb myself down” in order to have a decent dating life. That lasted about a year before I couldn’t take it anymore. It’s too hard to not be yourself. I think that trying to dumb yourself down is similar to trying to hide your financial success. I find it sad that some women feel they need to do that and that some men are uncomfortable with women who have money. If I were a guy dating a woman with more money, I’d feel like I’d hit the jackpot!

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is a timely topic and really hits close to home for me. I'm currently dating a man who is a little older than me. He recently confessed that it bothers him that I make more money than he does. It's not his lack of ambition--he's actually very ambitious and I really admire his work ethic--it's just that I make a lot of money as a lawyer at a big firm.

I try to downplay the difference, and it helps that I am trying to repay debt and am living below my means as it is. I suggest less-expensive restaurants, and while I frequently offer to pick up the check, I don't say another word if he insists that it's his turn. Still, I'm crazy about the guy and worry that the income disparity will be a problem even as I try to be sensitive to it.

Lawyers really are overpaid these days. If I insisted on dating someone who made more than me, it would probably have to be another lawyer, or maybe a doctor or entrepreneur. I don't really want to limit myself in that way--funny enough, I don't really like most lawyers.

English Major said...

Interesting post. This kind of stuff came up for me when my boyfriend took a freelance contract with a big pay bump--a hint of what's to come as he pursues his career path. I teased him about having to pay for dinner more often, and I have to say, there was part of me that was kind of gratified by the idea of him making a bunch of money. Although even now he makes substantially more than I do, I'm "dating down" in the sense that he doesn't have a college degree and I do (I also come from a higher social class than he does), and so for me, the idea of him moving toward a six-figure salary was a way in which I could ease my own little anxieties about that, I think.

I'm not super-proud of it, but there it is.

Anonymous said...

Ever since I graduated college, my boyfriends (3) have never made more than me, and I don't consider myself as one of the "rich ones." I don't know how that ends up happening, but it would be nice to find out what it's like to date someone that made more money than me. As a saver, they cannot understand why I save when I make so much, but I can't understand why they don't save when they make so little. I think it would be really nice if I met someone on my "financial" level, and that hasn't happened yet, either.

Barbara Stanny said...

This article sure sparked a lot of comment. I just responded to an entry about it on The World of Wealth.

I believe younger men will eventually come to their senses.

When I interviewed 154 women for my book, "Secrets of Six-Figure Women," most outearned their husbands...and they all told me how very supportive their men were. In fact, the common theme among married women was "I couldn't have done this without him."

The key: find a man who is secure enough in himself not to be competitive with his partner.

Otherwise, as I learned from my interviews, if the man feels threatened, the marriage didn't last.

Barbara Stanny, author

Anonymous said...

I wonder how much of this has to do with people's parents? My mother always earned more than my father (she has a Phd and he didn't finish high school). It never caused any problems between them, however, I feel really comfortable earning more than my boyfriend and worry how I will feel when he begins to out-earn me. I feel that it is my responsibility to be the breadwinner.

Andrew Stevens said...

Allow me to give my take, for what it's worth.

1) Only a small minority of men are really uncomfortable with dating women who make more than they do.
2) If the finances are going to be joint, most men would be thrilled to marry a woman who made more money.
3) On the whole, the problem high-earning women have is that they want to marry a man who makes more, not that most men are intimidated.
4) Another problem these women have is that they expect their salary to be as attractive to men as it would be to them, and it isn't. Men still care more about looks than income. It's not so much that men don't want a woman who earns a lot of money so much as they don't really care.
5) The problem with the growing income/college disparity and lack of dating prospects because of it does indeed occur in the real world, but not so much to upper middle class white women (like in this article). It is a much more serious problem for minority women who are rising out of the lower classes and not finding enough men who are doing likewise.

Mrs. Micah said...

I think with my husband's goal of teaching, it's quite possible I'll make more. But he wants to teach for teaching and I'm 100% behind him, because I think he's good at it.

Then again, we didn't have to date at different levels as much because we were both student when we started going out. So we built the relationship before the disparity.

Anonymous said...

"For men, it is accepted, even desirable, to flaunt their high status."

I'm sorry, but a man yapping about how much money he makes is a huge turnoff, and I would think the same would apply to women. Can people not come up with other topics of conversation? Especially in the early stages of a relationship?

Having said that, if you have to walk on eggshells around your boyfriend to avoid his resentment of your earning power, it's probably time to move on and find someone more secure.

L. Marie Joseph said...

"what if he had a job that paid $200,000 a year and was complaining that he hated it "

Good point, she said he had no ambition! --which meant he had no desire to make MORE money.

I'm very modest when it comes to my salary, But when it comes to the point of hiding your clothes price tags.

You are fooling yourself, why do you need to get to his level, you should be proud that you can afford it.

Anonymous said...

I dated a woman who gave me a neat gift for my birthday. It was a series of "coupons." One coupon was for a movie she would treat me too.

I thought "Great! I get a free movie."

But the weird thing was was at the moment she paid for the tickets it just felt completely wrong. I don't know how to describe it other than it being "wrong".

Related to your post, there have actually been studies done that show the more money a women earns and/or the higher education she has, the more likely she is to not get married.

Anonymous said...

If high-earning women are less likely to enter into marriage, it could be based on prudent asset protection, in the case of divorce. Pity there are no figures showing how many career women aren't married but are happily partnered. Might tell a different tale.

Alison said...

I enjoyed this entry very much that I even sent it to my boyfriend :) He is a banker in the city, while I work in corporate finance - 2 different worlds. Whenever I mention the idea of switching to a job on wallstreet, he tries to talk me out of it, which I think is funny. I guess he's still one of those guys who wants to be the main breadwinner... :)

Anonymous said...

Andrew Stevens hit this right on the head. Most women (and I'm speaking as a woman who has been through this situation) don't want to admit that they feel uncomfortable when a man isn't pulling the same amount of weight that she is, financially speaking. Also, I believe that women feel more leery of men who are excited about them making more money because often those men are willing to take advantage of them in some ways. It doesn't feel right, at least not to me, when a guy is like, "Oh, you make more than me? Fabulous -- now you can buy me expensive dinners!" For some reason, it's different when a guy is making more money, which probably has to do with cultural standards. it may not be pretty, but there it is.

Anonymous said...

I used to work with a single professional woman who said she only with out with guys making six figures. Quite a few years later she is still single. I guess anyone can price themselves out of the market.

Jon said...

Hehe interesting story, but more importantly, what is being done to address the growing disparity between men's and women's education levels and income? We need to help men achieve their full potential!


Marsha said...

I dated "down" for a few years, and I fell into the trap of giving him money - far too much money. Of course when we broke up, he didn't pay me back, even though some of the money was explicitly a loan.

That's my fault for getting myself into this mess, but it certainly would make me wary about dating down again.

When I've dated men with more money than I, I never took money from them and I generally paid my own way on dates.

Andrew Stevens said...

Marsha, unless you make an extremely low salary, I think it's safe to say that there are plenty of men who make less money than you who would never take money from you and would pay their own way on dates. (You may have to date more cheaply than you'd like, though.) It so happens that you were dating a bum, which doesn't have a whole lot to do with his income level. Try to avoid learning the wrong lesson from your experience.

For a few years during my beatnik days, the woman who is now my wife made about half again as much as I did. I still had to loan her money a few times (which I'm happy to say she always repaid me as promptly as possible) because I was a saver and she was a spender. (I converted her before we married.) Now I make more than six times what she makes. Our personal dynamic hasn't changed even a little bit due to income disparities.

Anonymous said...

This article was very helpful because I am a college student however my faily is very wealthy and I have a substantial bank account as well as stocks and investments. My boyfriend finds it hard to deal with because he thinks his gifts and things are not as nice as what I buy myself or get from my family. I told him that as long as gifts are from the heart it doesnt matter the price. So he treats me to a home cooked dinner and flowers or a trip some where and I pay for the more expensive vacations. I try not to flaunt my money also but I do have nice things ie. car and house and some very nice jewelry. We also have some issues because he wants to marry me and I want to also but I asked him to sign a prenup just in case, and he still refuses.

Anonymous said...

Man I've been reading these post on different websites for a while and they are all for middle class people. Most people in this world aren't and can't make even enough money to be considered in these conversations. It like if your not making 50 k then your not worthy of love or marriage. There aren't enough jobs for many men to make this kind of money. Its unfair most poor men are invisible and everyone is worshipping the dollar to find happiness and really depressing for a lot of people. If you don't make money the world sees you as worthless its a problem. People have no problem being so material when it comes to love and dating

mrfor202013@gmail said...

i need me a paid woman so she help me get my shit together .