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

My date, a 27-year-old woman I met on Hinge, said that gender equality didn’t mean men and women should pay the same amount when dating. Women, she said, earn less than men in the workplace, spend more time preparing for outings and pay more for reproductive care.

When the date was over, we split the bill. But our argument 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 fairness and equality. When it comes to romance and courtship, young people (specifically women and men in heterosexual relationships) seem to follow the same dating rules that their parents and older generations learned growing up.

Contemporary research, popular culture, and conversations I had with more than a dozen young Americans suggest that a long-standing norm remains valid: Men tend to foot the bill more than women on dates. And there seems to be an expectation that this will be the case.

Some progressive defenders of the rule cite the persistent gender pay gapand the fact that women pay more for reproductive products and clothing than men and that they spend more time preparing for dates to comply with social norms.

Kala Lundahl lives in New York City and works at a recruiting company. She typically takes people on dates through apps like Hinge, and the total cost of the date, usually with drinks, is around $80. On the first date, Lundahl, 24, always offers to split the check, but she expects the man to pay, and she has met resistance when she offers to pay.

Ms. Lundahl said that if the appointment went well, they could continue to a second location, usually a cheaper place where she was more likely to pay. On a second date, she said, she would be more insistent on paying the entire check or splitting it. Ms. Lundahl’s reasoning comes from her belief that the person she asked out (usually the man) should pay for the date, and that the person who made more money (usually also the man) should pay.

“A couple of guys get a little stiff when I offer to pay,” Lundahl said. “You can tell they’re not comfortable with that idea.”

Scott Bowen, a 24-year-old accountant from Charlotte, North Carolina, said he always paid for drinks, meals and coffee on dates. That usually ends up being $70 to $100 per outing. The conversation about who pays usually lasts a split second: from the moment the waiter leaves the check until Mr. Bowen walks up and says, “I’ll take that,” he said.

When Mr. Bowen was a child, his parents made it clear to him that he had to pay for dates when he dated a woman. He acknowledged that he wanted to see the status quo change to be more equitable, but said he felt uncomfortable bringing up the topic during dates: Our conversation was one of the rare times he talked about it with another person. person.

In LGBTQ relationships, who pays for dates has less to do with gender norms and more to do with specific relationship dynamic.

Brendan Foley, a government worker in Washington, D.C., said that in his experience dating men, the check was usually split. When a person paid, it was often the older man or the person who was understood to make the most money. But discussions about money during dates don’t bother him.

“I think there are more honest and direct conversations than dancing in heterosexual relationships,” Foley, 24, said.

Shanhong Luo, a professor at Fayetteville State University, studies the factors behind attraction between romantic partners, including the norms that govern relationships. In a paper Published in 2023 in Psychological Reports, a peer-reviewed journal, Dr. Luo and a team of researchers surveyed 552 heterosexual college students in Wilmington, North Carolina, asking them whether they expected men or women to pay for dates and whether , like a man or a woman, usually pay more.

The researchers found that young men paid for all or most dates about 90 percent of the time, while women paid only about 2 percent (they split about 8 percent of the time). At later dates, splitting the check was more common, although men still paid most of the time, while women rarely did. Nearly 80 percent of men expected to pay on the first date, while just over half of women (55 percent) expected men to pay.

Surprisingly, views on gender norms didn’t make much difference: On average, both men and women in the sample expected the man to pay, whether they held more traditional views on gender roles or more progressive ones.

“The findings clearly showed that the traditional pattern still exists,” Dr. Luo said.

The persistent tradition of men paying for women might seem like a harmless artifact. But in a relationship, those acts don’t exist in a vacuum.

Psychologists differentiate between two forms of sexism: “hostile sexism,” defined by beliefs such as that women are inferior to men, and “benevolent sexism,” defined by beliefs such as that it is men’s duty to protect women. . But the second can give way to the first.

“The notion of chivalry is couched in very positive terms,” ​​said Campbell Leaper, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “But over time, if people get stuck in these roles, there is a cost to that.”

in a study 2016, Dr. Leaper and his co-author, Alexa Paynter, surveyed college students in California and asked them how they rated a number of traditional courtship gestures, including men paying for dates. Most young men and women said men should pay for dates, but for men, the association between that opinion and more hostile views toward women was particularly strong.

Dr. Leaper, who has taught classes on gender development for more than 30 years, said his students today were more liberal on a variety of issues related to gender identity, sexuality and the norms governing relationships. But his students often defend the principle behind men paying for dates, or say they hadn’t even thought about how it was related to sexism.

“That’s something surprising to them and something they hadn’t really thought about before,” Dr. Leaper said.

Part of the reason the norm may persist among young people is that dating is inherently awkward, Dr. Luo said. Even for young people who may have a firm commitment to financial independence, whether male or female, the pressure of a millennial norm can take effect.

“Regardless of what you believe in, you will do what the norm says to do,” Dr. Luo said.

Kent Barnhill said he paid for about 80 percent of the dates he went on, usually with people he had met on dating apps. Barnhill, 27, identifies as a feminist and is politically progressive, but said her upbringing in a wealthy, conservative home in South Florida had shaped her practice of insisting on paying for dates, particularly early in her life. relations.

“At the first appointment, I always establish upfront that I want to pay,” said Barnhill, a data analyst for the Washington, D.C., public school system. “The fact that I’m paying more doesn’t bother me.”

Zoe Miller, 23, on the other hand, grew up in a liberal household in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. A dating experience in college shaped her insistence on splitting her bill. While her date was in the bathroom, a waiter approached and asked Ms. Miller how the two of them wanted to pay. She said she wanted to split the bill, so the waiter came back with two checks. When Mrs. Miller’s date returned, he was furious. He wanted to pay the date.

Now, he said, “I absolutely refuse to not split the check.”

Ms. Miller and Mr. Barnhill began dating after meeting through a mutual friend. The couple recently enjoyed a meal at an elegant Italian restaurant in Washington’s Mount Vernon neighborhood, and Mr. Barnhill had paid.

At first, Ms. Miller found it difficult to accept that Mr. Barnhill paid the entire check. But a combination of an income difference (she’s had fewer shifts at her job at a smoothie shop) and seeing the gesture as genuine, rather than an expression of power, made her agree to the idea. Since that outing, they have attempted to split their dates using the Splitwise app.

Once two people get over the awkward initial courtship, navigating the complexities of financing a date tends to be easier. When a person pays, man or woman, they feel joy, comparing the act of paying to giving a gift.

Andrew Tuchler and Miranda Zhang are a Los Angeles couple who met in college. Going out on expensive dates wasn’t financially viable for them, so they opted for what college couples typically do: spend time eating in the cafeteria and during club events.

Tuchler and Zhang, both 26, said the early experience of a relationship not defined by money had helped them prepare for the challenges of talking about and spending money. The couple splits their finances, but when it comes to dating, they alternate who pays.

Tuchler said he enjoyed it as an act of service, and even went the extra step to tell the waiter what he was going to order. Ms. Zhang said she appreciated the gesture and enjoyed her returning her favor.