These days, women are about as likely to bring home the bacon as their male counterparts. But has this affected what kind of guy women want to date — is the size of a man’s salary still a critical element?
To get the answer, we gathered together a group of men, women and relationship experts to talk about this controversial topic — and get some advice on how to handle the situation whether you’re a male or female, flush with cash or just getting by.
Q: Even in a day when women often out-earn men, do they still prefer to date a guy with a sizable paycheck?
Jillian Straus: I’m often astonished to overhear conversations at restaurants where a woman will ask her girlfriend, “Does he make money?” Women often want a more successful man, even if they’re successful themselves — one study found that successful women want to be with a successful man even more so than their less successful counterparts.
Dann: There are definitely a lot of women who keep an eye on the man’s wallet. That’s why you see some women perk up when a man says he’s a doctor or a lawyer. And if he’s a hot doctor or lawyer, forget about it!
Haley: It’s not that I couldn’t fall in love with someone who made less money than I do, but it would be difficult. I want to settle down with someone who can take care of me and support a family.
Rebecca: Money has never been a consideration for me. Can someone make me happy, make me laugh, and carry on an intellectually stimulating conversation? I think about those things first and money much, much later.
Q: So why do some women still think the size of a man’s salary is still important, even if they’re making money themselves?
Jillian Straus: We are psychologically living between today, which is the modern world, and what we saw growing up, which influenced how we define the roles and behaviors of “man” and “woman.” And in some cases, women want the choice of whether or not to stay home and raise children. In other cases, women don’t mind earning more money, but think the men they’re with would feel diminished by that. I heard one story where a woman was making more than her guy, and the day she came home with a Porsche was the day the relationship was over.
Liz Kelly: For a woman who’s on a limited budget and feels strapped, it’s scary to take on someone who’s making significantly less money. That pressure can create an imbalance in the relationship which can make people — both men and women — feel uncomfortable.
Haley: My current boyfriend pays for everything and I think I make more than he does, but I like it that way because it feels romantic, caring and chivalrous. Dating a man without money is really tough because you end up paying for everything and that wears on you after awhile.
Q: The upsides to dating a man with money are pretty obvious — but are there any downsides?
Jillian Strauss: There’s an old saying that goes, “If you marry for money, you earn every penny.”
Jen: I’ve dated men with money and without and have often found that guys with money have an overwhelming sense of entitlement. You’re never that special to them because they think they can get any woman they want. Now I’m trying to find someone in the middle: Someone with a decent income but who is a nice guy.
Q: So what do men think about women who consider money to be a priority?
Sebastian: I once met a woman who seemed more interested in my sports car than in me. Even so, in my mind there’s nothing wrong with wanting to live well.
Dann: I don’t think it’s any worse than men pursuing only women who are really physically attractive. But I do think anyone who does that is shallow. That said, it’s frustrating not having a lot of money because it means that you can’t do nice things to impress someone you love. You need to be resourceful — bargain hunt for good gifts or plan a date around renting a movie.
Liz Kelly: Lots of guys with money will complain to me that they don’t want to always pay for dates because they want to make sure that the woman is with them for who they are, not for how much they earn. But I agree with Dann: It’s the romance and chivalry that women want — not the free meal.
Q: So what should a man do if he doesn’t make much money?
Rebecca: I don’t feel like I need my boyfriend to spend a lot of money on me to show me that he loves me. He does that in a million little ways, like always filling my car with gas or leaving me cute little notes around the house.
Liz Kelly: Guys without money to burn need to work a little harder, that’s all. Small gestures, like burning a CD of your favorite music, go a long way towards making a woman feel special. Guys should also pay for dates early on. Career women are happy to pick up the tab when dating someone seriously, but in the early stages of dating, the guy should get the tab. It sets the stage for building a stronger relationship.
Jillian Straus: I agree that there’s still value in symbolic gestures, like being taken out to a nice dinner. It doesn’t mean that I’m not a modern woman, it’s just that I really value the symbolic exchange — it makes a woman feel adored.
Jen: Even if you have a lot of money, you still need to be romantic. If all you do is flash your money around, you’ll only attract opportunists.
Q: Any advice for women?
Dann: In general, a woman should ignore finances and pick the guy who makes her laugh. All the money in the world won’t matter if sitting across the dinner table from this guy night after night bores you to tears.
Amanda May is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY who’s contributed to Redbook and other publications.