Relationship Economics by Christopher Yin
February- the month of Valentine’s Day. The month of flowers and chocolate. The month of elaborate dates and mushy films. The month of Hallmark glee; about 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged every year, surpassing every other holiday save Christmas. And maybe focusing on the money detracts from the excitement of the “season,” but an interesting exercise in Econ class left me wondering- how is money really treated in the modern romantic relationship? More specifically, how does gender come into play when dealing with the financial aspects of a high school couple? And are the unwritten laws of relationship economics an ideal to be pursued- or are they keeping society entrenched in harmful, archaic stereotypes? I have my own opinions, but to more accurately assess the general views of a typical high school population, I surveyed Edison students from several different classes. In each class, I handed out the following questionnaire:
I received 92 responses- 37 from guys, 55 from girls. I’ve compiled the results as a series of two-way tables, and I’m going to address each question step by step. First up- should the guy in a relationship always pay for the meal?
Overall, answers were roughly equivalent across genders. Out of the 92 people surveyed, roughly 17% believed that the guy should always pay for the meal; for guys, the proportion was about 22%, and for girls, 15%. So for the most part, students seemed to agree that it isn’t the guy’s duty to foot the bill every time. There were some inevitable dissenters, including one person (male) who proclaimed “It is a man’s duty to pay for every meal, every time. No questions asked.” In general, though, most people seemed to agree with the following sentiment (provided by another male participant): “We live in a world where women are continually becoming more and more equal to men. They want equality, they should have true equality- including both benefits and disadvantages.” An interesting shift occurs, however, when you take a look at the ancillary question: What about on a first date?
In this case, 86% of the male participants and 78% of the female participants in the survey thought that the guy should pay for the meal on a first date; overall, 82% of the survey participants shared this belief. Why the drastic change? What’s so important about the first date that sets it apart from all others? One participant explained that “a small amount of sexism is worth keeping for tradition, within reason.” Another justified his answer by saying “women (nationally) earn less for the same job.” Though the proportion of girls who answered yes to this question was smaller than the proportion of men, it was still a marked jump from the previous question. First dates often set the precedents for a relationship, so what does it say about our society’s values that a majority of both genders believe the guy should start things off “right” by paying for the bill? Or is it just that guys tend to be the ones more frequently asking out girls for the first time? And then what does that say?
The next set of questions mostly matched up with the first set. The initial inquiry was: Should the girl ever offer to pay for all or part of a meal?
The results were nearly unanimous; in all three categories (male, female, and total), the percentage of people who believed that there are times when the girl should offer to pay for at least some of the meal was approximately 89%. One girl explained, “The girl should always at least offer to pay. I think that it is an indicator of her character.” Another stated, “It really shouldn’t matter. If the girl knows she’s in a better financial situation, it should be acceptable for the girl to offer to pay.” Interestingly, this 89% doesn’t quite match up with the percentages of people from question 1 who believed that the guy shouldn’t always pay (about 74% for all categories). This minor disparity could suggest that in general, both guys and guys find that even when the girl offers to contribute, there are occasions in which the guy should pay for the entire bill anyway. One male participant opined, “The guy paying for the meal is more of an act to impress the girl than anything else. It is considered common etiquette if the man pays for everything- but that was from a time when women did only the housework. All the feminists pushing for equal pay are essentially pushing to pay for an equal amount of dates as well.” Again, however, the majority opinion seems to shift when focus turned upon the first date.
Though not as drastic an increase as in question 1, the same pattern is evident: more people believed that girls shouldn’t offer to pay for a first date (46% of guys, 49% of girls, and 48% overall) than believed girls shouldn’t offer to pay for any date. Surprisingly, a lower proportion of guys were against girls offering to pay for the first date. A comment left by one male participant reads: “Women cannot have empowerment yet request the same treatment that fostered sexist attitudes.” However, this imbalance may be due simply to the fact that a smaller amount of guys were surveyed (as the law of large numbers tells us, a larger sample size will mean that the sample proportion more closely estimates the true population proportion). In any event, regardless of gender, the first date still seems to separate itself from other dates in the eyes of the survey participants.
Moving away from meals, the next question dealt with school dances: Who should pay for the tickets?
Here, there were a couple more options in terms of what people could answer. Of the male participants, 35% thought the guy should always pay, 24% that the person who asks should pay, 35% that people should pay individually, and a whopping 3% that the girl should pay. Of the female participants, 29% thought the guy should always pay, 27% that the person who asks should pay, and 29% that people should pay individually. Both genders were evenly split on whether the guy should pay or the couple should pay individually. Perhaps not coincidentally, only 1 person in the entire survey thought the girl should pay for dance tickets, whereas 82 believed there are times when the girl should offer to pay for the meal. Dances are clearly different from dinner dates, not least in that they occur less frequently and cost a lot more money. Still, I acknowledge that the wording of the question could be responsible for this rather significant gap. A female participant pointed out that “GENERALLY the guy buys the tickets, but then it would be polite if the girl either pays for the bus ticket or maybe the tie/bowtie.” One final note of interest is that of the two genders, a much higher proportion of guys believed that the person who asks should pay for the dance tickets. Of course, the way you interpret this statistic could be affected by which gender more frequently does the asking…
It is here that we find one of the more interesting variations in responses from one gender to the other. About 59% of guys believed that girls are justified in asking guys out to dances, whereas 78% of girls expressed this same opinion. So- why this difference? Does it impugn a “man’s honor” for a guy to be asked out by a girl? Is it pride? Or is it something else entirely? If you take a look back at the previous question, take this disparity into account when considering the higher proportion of guys than girls who said that the asker should pay for the tickets.
And now for the last question- Would you approve of an adult relationship in which the woman makes more money than the man?
Almost everybody was of the same mind on this one- Yes. And that pretty much speaks for itself.
So, what does all this signify? Well, that’s up to you. I’ve presented my data, and it’s your decision whether or not you want to accept it as statistically valid, and if so, how you want to interpret the results. After all, my sample size was admittedly small, not even a fifth of the senior class. So, maybe my results aren’t truly indicative of the population’s actual opinions. Maybe gender isn’t really that huge of an issue when it comes to love and money; as one person phrased it, “I think that any relationship is defined by the standards that the couple sets for themselves. Whether or not something ‘should’ be done is something that should be established by the couple themselves.” In a similar vein, another participant commented, “I think in general there should be gender equality, and that there shouldn’t be expectations limiting what a certain gender should or shouldn’t be asking.” I’d like to think I’m of the same mind. I hope that society is moving to a place where who pays for what isn’t influenced by gender- but I’m not sure if my results corroborate this belief. Nonetheless, I do believe in progress, and maybe someday another Edison student will repeat my study and see how opinions have changed; I guess I’ll just have to wait and see. But just for the record-
Here’s how I answer my own survey.