For Gen Z, an Age-Old Question: Who Pays for Dates?

Young people tend to lean more liberal on a range of issues pertaining to relationship norms. But when it comes to dating, the idea that men should pay still prevails in heterosexual courtship.

During a recent dinner at a cozy bar in Upper Manhattan, I was confronted with an age-old question about gender norms. Over bowls of ramen and sips of gin cocktails, my date and I got into a debate: Who should pay for dates?

My date, a 27-year-old woman I matched with on Hinge, said gender equality didn’t mean men and women should pay the same when they went out. Women, she said, earn less than men in the workplace, spend more time getting ready for outings and pay more for reproductive care.

When the date ended, we split the bill. But our discussion was emblematic of a tension in modern dating. At work and on social media, where young people spend much of their personal time, they like to emphasize equity and equality. When it comes to romance and courtship, young people — specifically women and men in heterosexual relationships — seem to be following the same dating rules their parents and older generations grew up learning.

Contemporary research, popular culture and conversations I had with more than a dozen young Americans suggest that a longstanding norm still holds true: Men tend to foot the bill more than women do on dates. And there seems to be an expectation that they should.

Some progressive defenders of the norm cite the persistent gender wage gap, and the fact that women pay more for reproductive products and apparel than men and that they spend more time preparing for dates to comport with societal norms.

Kala Lundahl lives in New York City and works at a recruiting firm. She typically matches with people for dates through apps like Hinge, with the total cost of the date, usually over drinks, coming to around $80. On the first date, Ms. Lundahl, 24, always offers to split the check but expects the man to pay — and has encountered resistance when she offers to pay.

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